Label Spotlight: BELLA UNION // Review: LAURA VIERS // July Flame

April 13, 2010

Laura Viers - July Flame
I remember the first time I heard Laura Veirs. I was listening to KCRW’s Brave New World With Tricia Halloran and on came “The Cloud Room” from Laura’s first record for Nonesuch, Carbon Glacier. So catchy, darkly humorous and such a pure voice. That proved to be one of the best releases of that year. The next record, A Year Of Meteors, while containing another batch of brilliant songs, seemed overproduced by comparison. 2007’s Saltbreakers was, perhaps, a step closer to Carbon Glacier.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t heard a Laura Veirs record I don’t love yet, but I’ve been waiting for an album that would impact me on the level that Carbon Glacier did. I’m happy to say that July Flame is that album.

When word came that she had re-signed with Bella Union, a great label run by Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde (and formerly Robin Guthrie), I had mixed feelings. Nonesuch seemed a perfect artistic home for her, yet Bella Union was the home of my favorite album of hers.  Was Laura Veirs about to make a noise pop record?! Alas, Laura Veirs simply has made a record that Laura Veirs would make. Very wisely, she has kept the same producer she’s had since Carbon Glacier, the brilliant Mr. Tucker Martine. His treatment of Veirs’ material is perfectly graceful, knowing when to dress up a joyful moment and strip a solemn one to a pure voice in an empty room.

The record begins with the sparse and beautiful I Can See Your Tracks, adorned with the echo-laden voice of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It is followed by the record’s finest song and title track, July Flame. With driving bass and percussion pulsing below, Veirs’ voice soars in the chorus with the refrain “Can I Call You Mine?”. It’s the finest song I’ve heard in 2010 and it even bests “The Cloud Room” in her canon. One would be remiss without mentioning her beautiful tribute to session musician Carol Kaye, entitled, well, Carol Kaye. Smile if you know who she is.

This record is a quieter one for Veirs. There are flashes of 99.9F-era Suzanne Vega and Neko Case, but Laura Veirs walks a unique path of her own. Beautiful support is provided by James, Martine, Karl Blau, Steve Moore, seasoned string arranger Stephen Barber and John Zorn/Bill Frisell regular (and former Winnipegger) Eyvind Kang.

I used to tell people to start with Carbon Glacier. That has now changed.

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