Fifteen years and nine studio albums in, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs still could not be considered a household name. But consistent, solid, high-quality songwriting will always win the day in Americana/folk, and Veirs has been among the most solid and consistent of them all across those nine albums. The result: those who know Laura Veirs, love Laura Veirs. And her latest release Warp and Weft gives the fans plenty of reasons to go right on loving her and her work.
If you’re not convinced that this girl has earned the respect of her peers, take a look at the guest list on this album. Neko Case. kd lang. Jim James and Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket. Several members of The Decemberists. Yes, they’re all here, whether playing on the tracks or lending guest vocals, with Veirs husband Tucker Martine once again at the production helm. What a team to have with you in the studio.
Stylewise, Warp and Weft doesn’t stray too far off the beaten path, with the exception that Veirs favors electric guitar over acoustic and that the album leans a little more toward the rock side of folk. What innovation exists comes in the form of the arrangements, frequently occurring in the less-is-more vein. In “Finster Saw the Angels” and “Say Darlin’ Say”, for example, Veirs shows how it’s possible to create memorable music with an electric guitar and little else. Closing track “White Cherry” creatively combines harp, saxophone, piano and other instruments to create an airy jazz feel. And in “Sadako Folding Cranes,” Veirs combines Asian-tinged orchestration with a light guitar strum, a haunting whistle and a moaning choir to create one of the most interesting backdrops on the album.
That said, as always, the place where Laura Veirs shines brightest is in the songwriting. For Warp and Weft, she seems to draw largely on two sources of inspiration: motherhood (she was pregnant with her second child while recording the album) and the real-life stories of others. As to the first, this mainly shows up in several references to motherhood (“Sun Song” and “Dorothy of the Island,” to name two) and fragile reflections on both the beauty and ugliness of life. As to the other, several actual human beings are paid tribute with songs on the record, including folk artist Howard Finster (“Finster Saw the Angels”), jazz harpist Alice Coltrane (wife of John), and Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki (“Sadako Folding Cranes”). As to the latter, the theme is carried even further by the origami paper included in the physical copy of the CD (according to Veirs’ website, for each fan who submits a photograph of the completed origami crane, Veirs will make a donation to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence).
To me, the only misstep on the record (if you could call it that) is the second track “America.” It’s a great song on its own, but easily the most political (“Everybody’s packing heat in America” and “Founding Fathers roll in their graves in America”), and it sort of stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the other songs. Hitting so early in the track list, it comes across a bit like Veirs had something on her mind, stopped mid-sentence to jump onto the soapbox to say her piece, then stepped off and continued to perform the album.
In the end, however, while Warp and Weft is not a groundbreaker among indie-folk albums, neither is it really intended to be. True to her craft as a songwriter, Laura Veirs thrives on providing honest reflections on life, love and loss in her tunes, influenced by the things she’s going through and the things she’s thinking about. That honesty is what makes this record shine, and what makes Veirs easily one of the most consistently great singer-songwriters of our day.