Laura Veirs' wondrous voice weaves through existential pursuits



Laura Veirs/Bella Union

4 stars

When the collaborative album case/lang/veirs came out two years ago, attention was showered on the two better-known artists, k.d. lang and Neko Case.

It's okay. Laura Veirs is in a zone of her own. For fans quietly following her artistic development, the Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter has always been one of America's best-kept secrets.

Her airy, wondrously searching voice weaves through the aforementioned record, untethered to mundane concerns such as star billing. She is more interested in bigger, more existential pursuits - such as the environment and the place of humanity.

The Lookout, her 10th solo studio record, is among her best. It exemplifies her sensual alertness - an appreciation of the munificence and fragility of Mother Nature and a more pronounced civic-mindedness in an increasingly chaotic political and social order.

While other musicians are wont to bray and slay divisive figures, Veirs takes a less direct approach, seeing the good in the bad and vice versa.

A mother of two young sons, she beseeches the listener to sit back and take stock of one's gifts, advocating for communion in the face of incomprehensible hatred.

In the title track, dedicated to her husband and long-time producer Tucker Martine, she confesses over a wonderful braiding of guitars and sprightly percussion: "I can't read these people/I can't read their eyes/But man alive, I'm glad/That I have you."

Look around you and don't take your loved ones for granted, she clearly exhorts, detailing the humdrum joys of family life often taken for granted.

"Sitting back home on the old stained couch/Two tired old dog bones/And the moon is coming out," she describes in three simple and vivid lines.

Domesticity also takes centre stage in Everybody Needs You, a paean to parenthood and responsibility. A seamlessly interlacing of synths and organic instrumentation mirrors the multi-tasking at hand. A beautifully gnomic verse ends this song. "Two koi fish/Turnin' in the sky/One's in your brain/The other's in your thigh," she sings, alluding to the constant movement of mind and body.

In Seven Falls, a trip to the outdoors is fraught with tension. "I dove into the lake and called/An icy command for you to join me/How can a child of the sun be so cold?" she sings over incongruously gentle pedal steel. The melody is imbued with warmth and wonder, but the words hint at inner turmoil. "Like a caveman they found on the frozen flats/I'm old now/And I try to be kind but still sometimes/I'm as cold as that," she admits over a delicious folk-bluesy melody.

The Meadow is a magisterial piano ballad so bare, it glows. "No fear, no confusion, just a sliver of a moon," she sings, until her voice segues to a gravity-defying falsetto. "We knew it wouldn't last/It was beautiful," she concludes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Wondrous voice weaves through existential pursuits'. Print Edition | Subscribe