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Laura Veirs | Troubled By The Fire (Bella Union)
It begins with a sonic disturbance. Backwards, forwards, sideways, chaos ... from which some plaintive acoustic picking, a settling, then the voice of a goddess. This opening track, Lost at Seaflower Cove, sets an almost irretrievable standard - I thought immediately of Robert Fripp's work with The Roches. The viola sound, dry as a drought, is mesmerising. Seattle based Laura Veirs' debut for Bella Union is so well produced I assumed the hand of label maestro Simon Raymonde (who places this album in his top ten of all time), but no, the sound of the record comes from drummer Tucker Martine, and it is special. Folky and fey for some perhaps, but it transcends those limitations with some great atmospheres and passages of 'just being'. No coincidence then that Bill Frisell lends his guitar textures to three tracks (including a terrific descending chord sequence on Ohio Clouds) or indeed that Tucker pops up as engineer on Bill's new world/crossover record 'The Intercontinentals'. The high quality of track one takes a dip with the saccharine keyboard sound in Bedroom Eyes and the too-jolly Ballad of John Vogelin, but picks up again for the haunting Songs My Friends Taught Me and is rocking with anti-war song Cannon Fodder, angry Chan Marshall-style; "every war is brutal, stupid, expensive and mean". After the fire of warfare, the fire of passion also gets a workout on Tiger Tattoos, but it is the fire inside us all, sometimes troubling, which underpins the record: "We can be scared by our power and by our ability to create and be inspirational, and I see a lot of people holding back that light and choosing not to create, not to take risks and not to speak up for themselves," to quote Laura from her website, after reading Nelson Mandela. Well, the band are certainly into it! The Tortured Souls, Laura's touring band, includes Eyvind Kang on viola/fiddle (no surprise they have already shared a bill with Eliza Carthy), on best form here with homespun instrumental Tom Skookum Road. Steve Moore is on keyboards, apparently a great writer in his own right, and check that brass/woodwind work out on Devil's Hootenany. One moan - the double tracked vocal on Tiger Tattoos; I have this vision of Laura on stage having to hold up a mirror to herself so as to give the illusion of a double ... so an necessary production feature. The matt, digi-pack sleeve courtesy of Jason Lutes is pleasing on the eye and the hand, the imaginary Seaflower Cove? So an album in which the music rather than the star-persona comes first. In fact this is Laura Veirs' third CD, after two self-published gems on her own Raven Marching Band Records. And having once survived an existential crisis marooned in a remote desert of Northwest China she should be well prepared for the international gig circuit.

Richard Bell
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003