Laura Veirs, Oran Mor, Glasgow
Tuesday 19 January 2010
At few instalments of Glasgow's roots music festival Celtic Connections will the link between Celtic musical tradition and the younger country-folk sound of North America have been illustrated with such effortless grace. The Colorado-raised Laura Veirs, midway through her thirties and on the cusp of releasing her seventh album, is a songwriter of rare talents, a woman who can turn a neat little melody about bittersweet love and arrange it in such a way that it might fill the wildernesses of the New World.
Six months pregnant, Veirs welcomes us to this first date of a two-month European and US tour. Amusingly, she expresses approval for the (not entirely true) tale of Martha Wainwright's waters breaking during a concert last year and the show going on regardless.
In a similar vein, many of the songs here use humour and a delicate structure to mask a core of real toughness. The singer's backing band, The Hall of Flames, swap instruments between every track, generally playing some combination of electric and acoustic guitars, keyboard, drums and violin, although on occasion their backing amounts to no more than the slow creak of a fiddle and a gentle acoustic strum.
In each case, however, Veirs' arrangements are distinctive and hard to forget. For example, "Life is Good Blues" carries a "Little Drummer Boy"-style "pum-pu-pu-pum" harmony from all four band members, while her take on the traditional Appalachian track "Cluck Old Hen" builds into a demented reel that's almost overpowered by a pounding drum beat.
Veirs conjures poetic lines which might seem corny when written down, but which come alive when delivered in her crystal clear voice. "A large part of me is forever tied to the lamplight of your eyes" affirms "When You Give Your Heart", while "To the Country"'s simple promise that "I'm gonna move to the country / so I can see the heavenly stars" is heart-stopping when rendered as a call-and-response harmony.
Although there are rich pickings to be had throughout her career, the fact that most of the highlights came from the new album, July Flame, suggests that Veirs is at or near the height of her ability right now. "We're gonna make something good," pledges the low-key closer "Make Something Good", but "it's gonna take a long time". On the evidence of this set, she's just about there.
Touring to 27 January ( Lauraveirs.com)
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