Laura Veirs & the Hall of Flames
About July Flame
Laura Veirs' seventh album July Flame, which Colin Meloy calls "the best album of 2010," explores the emotion of mid-summer. Drenched in wood smoke, sunlight, pollinators, pastoral dales, fireworks and warm nights, her lyrics explore the dichotomy between oneâs desire for permanence and security and the realization that such things rarely exist. Nowhere on the album is this inherent tension more crystallized than on the title track.
On a day in late July 2008, when the sun was hot enough to melt the skin, Veirs and a friend stumbled upon a booth at the Portland, Ore. farmer's market selling July Flame peaches. Veirs so liked the name that she suggested she and her friend each write a song with that title. They bought a bunch of peaches and canned them in their bathing suits on the hottest day that summer.
The peaches, spiked with cloves and drenched in syrup, turned out great, and the song is one of Veirs' best ever.
"I'd been in a songwriting slump at that time and writing that song pushed me over my plateau and into a new place where I was surprising myself again. I invented oddball tunings so I was really using my ear to search out new-sounding melodies and patterns," says Veirs. "I wrote this album from a searching, soulful place. I hope it elicits a real gut feeling."
Composed mostly on her "crappy nylon-string guitar," (though also on her Les Paul electric guitar, banjo and piano), in the barn behind her house in Portland, Ore., July Flame is a relatively stripped-down folk record highlighting Veirsâ masterful finger picking guitar and confident vocals. "Laura's like the queen bee and my ear is her hive; she nests and makes honey in the hairs of my cochlea," says Jim James of My Morning Jacket (who sings on several tracks).
The album breaks from Veirs' previous full-band efforts, although many of the same players make appearances on the album, including longtime collaborators Karl Blau and Steve Moore. String arrangements are featured more on this album than on others; the brilliant improviser Eyvind Kang plays viola on many songs, and legendary arranger Stephen Barber composed hauntingly beautiful string quartet arrangements for three songs.
July Flame is the sixth album that Laura and producer Tucker Martine have made together. Recorded and mixed at their home, the songwriting, arrangements, production and performances create a fully realized piece of art that inspires reflection and calm in a world that spins unsteady.
Laura Veirs grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she often spent summers camping with her family, which gave her much of her songwriting inspiration. Veirs has said that she didnât seriously listen to music until she was in her 20s; instead, she just heard what was in her environment. She listened to folk, country, classical and pop music around the house and on the radio during her youth.
Attending Carleton College in rural Minnesota, Veirs latched onto feminist punk rock from the Pacific Northwest, eventually starting an all-female punk band called "Rair Kx!". Laura studied geology and Mandarin Chinese. After college, she embraced older country and folk music. Her first foray into songwriting started with a geological expedition in China, where she served as translator. She was miserable and immersed herself into writing lyrics as a way of coping.
She put out her own self-titled album Laura Veirs, recorded live and featuring just her and guitar, in 1999. She has since made five highly acclaimed records with producer Tucker Martine. 2003 saw the release of Troubled by the Fire, a full-band effort that found the artist sharing the studio with such luminaries as Bill Frisell and violist Eyvind Kang. She signed to Nonesuch Records the following year with the atmospheric follow-up Carbon Glacier. Year of Meteors followed in August 2005. She collaborated with The Decemberists on âYankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)â, from their 2006 album The Crane Wife. Her sixth record, Saltbreakers, was released worldwide on Nonesuch Records in April 2007.
Veirs' seventh album, July Flame, will be released in January 2010 on her own record label, Raven Marching Band Records (in North America) and on Bella Union (in Europe and the rest of the world).
Veirs tours frequently in Europe, North America and Australia both solo and with a backing band consisting of a rotating cast including Karl Blau, Steve Moore, Tucker Martine, Keeley Boyle, Nelson Kempf, Eric Anderson, Kate O'Brien-Clarke and Alex Guy.
Veirs and Martine now live in Portland, Oregon.
THE WATSON TWINS
Following on the critical success of Rabbit Fur Coat, their 2006 collaboration with Jenny Lewis, Southern Manners (2006 self-released EP) and Fire Songs, their 2008 Vanguard Records full-length debut, The Watson Twins return with Talking To You, Talking To Me (February 9th/Vanguard) their most groove-heavy and ambitious album to date. The 12 songs on TTY, TTM, produced by Russell Pollard and J. Soda of Everest, display a new sonic direction previously only hinted at in past efforts. Yes, the folk, country and Americana roots of Leigh and Chandra Watson remain, but the duo also explores and reveals their long-held love of R&B, Bossa Nova, indie pop and most prominently, classic soul. "We wanted your body to move with every song," says Leigh. Where the gorgeous Fire Songs was slower and more meditative, TTY, TTM showcases the twins' admiration of classic soul vocalists, torch singers and chanteuses such as Etta James and Aretha Franklin. "I think elements of that existed on Fire Songs, but they were buried and just hinted at that," says Chandra. "When you're insecure about something, you don't necessarily have the confidence to invoke those styles." Those insecurities can be laid to rest with TTY, TTM. The soulfulness of "Midnight" sounds like a heartbroken lover crying the blues at a late night bar. "Harpeth River" updates the vibe of classic Portishead. The Hammond B3 and defiant vocals of "Devil in You" could be a lost b-side to Dusty in Memphis, while "Savin' You" and "Snow Canyons" hearken back to the pair's more traditional Americana-based tracks. In June 2009, having already written the lyrics for the album separately, the twins, Pollard and Soda decamped to a remote cabin in the High Sierras near Yosemite National Park with no phones, television or music. In four days, armed with only guitars, a drum kit, and computer to record the results, the foursome finished the sketches for TTY, TTM. (The album would later be recorded at Fairfax Recordings on the same mixing console as Pink Floyd's The Wall. It features prominent contributions by members of Everest and My Morning Jacket's Bo Koster.) A retreat in the woods wasn't the only switch the duo made for this album. "In the past, we tended to sing a lot together doing these intricate harmonies," says Chandra. "On this one, the two of us sang back-up for whichever one of us was lead singer. We basically sang back-up for ourselves." Adds Leigh: "I feel we've honed how to work together and I think our singing style on this album strengthened the idea of the two of us being one voice. What people expect from us is very different from what this record is." On their debut album, Leigh and Chandra Watson established themselves as leaders of a movement that embraced traditional American sounds while still breaking new ground. With Talking to You, Talking to Me, the next chapter of a bourgeoning career is ready to be heard.
SPIN MAGAZINE 8 OUT OF 10 for TWT
"Talking To You, Talking To Me"!!!
"... the Watsons consult vintage Southern styles for inspiration, incorporating touches of country and plenty of hot-blooded soul. The only problem with "Calling Out," "Forever Me," and other alluring tracks is that they end too soon-the sultry vocals, churchy organ, and stinging electric guitar of "Midnight" leave you craving more." Jon Young
" * * * * FOUR STARS! "
"Happily their mellowness is balanced by musical variety, from 'Snow Canyons' hint of Emmylou Harris country to 'Forever Me', which is pure Bjork-ish tourch song indie. They're at their best doing languorous, late-night, honky-tonk blues tinted with soul; and one song, 'Give Me A Chance', even emulates the spooked mournfulness of Roy Orbison."
"Their soulful harmonies are at the center of a sparkling pop sound that has a Memphis-meets-L.A. texture and hooks that work their charms on you instantly."
MARIE CLAIRE MAGAZINE:
"As sisters Chandra and Leigh's harmonies wrap around hissing cymbals and jazzy guitar, this languorous, closing-time cabaret song builds into a long slow good-night kiss to melt all your late-winter blues."
"The record is beautiful and dark... Talking To You, Talking To Me, is an open wound unabashedly bared.
"Talking To You, Talking To Me admires the night with a ghostly, echoed sound that bounces from sleek pop ("Modern Man") to tense discovery ("Harpeth River") to earnest '60's girl group harmonies ("Savin' You," "Tell Me Why").
"A dark yet mellow record in which the sultry vocals of Chandra and Leigh Watson stand out enough without overshadowing the retro guitar and organ parts they accompany. The sisters Watson manage to transcend eras, at times sonically resembling 1960s female pop and soul, other times Pink Floyd."
LED TO SEA
Led to Sea is the solo project of violist/violinist/composer L. Alex Guy. She is sometimes joined by incredible percussionist Paul Kikuch.
Alex also tours throughout the U.S. and Europe with musicians such as Laura Veirs, Mirah and Jason Webley. She was also a member of the Degenerate Art Ensemble (of Seattle), an experimental-punk-grove orchestra/theater extravaganza for over five years. You can also hear her viola and violin stylings on the records of numerous indie and experimental bands including Xiu Xiu, the Dead Science, The Pharmacy and Parenthetical Girls.
Alex has also composed for theater and dance performances. Previous works include: a solo score (for violin) for Ibsen's 'Enemy of the people,' a score for viola, violin and bass drum to accompany modern dance piece 'Entry by Entrance; music for Wise Fool NM's Circus Luminous; musical scores for the SCCC production of the Laramie Project, and Strawberry Theater Workshop's productions of This Land: Woodie Guthrie.
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