[FOLK POP] Over seven years of watching Laura Veirs grow from humble-but-driven independent songwriter to internationally acclaimed recording artist (still almost as humble and just as driven), I've been faced with the recurring challenge of how to render her singular appeal into prose. My first attempt was a poem ("People of Portland, perk up your ears/ There ain't nobody like Laura Veirs," etc.). Next, I tried to make something of the fact that Veirs' CDs sit between Suzanne Vega and the Velvet Underground on my shelf. Upon the release of 2002's Carbon Glacier, I even pulled in the theory of recapitulation and a comparison to a Venus' flytrap to try to convey her music's subtle charms.
Now, Veirs has issued her third major-label disc (her sixth overall), the career-high Saltbreakers, and defining her appeal isn't any easier. She has also renamed her loyal, three-man backing group—Karl Blau (bass, guitar), Steve Moore (keys) and Tucker Martine (percussion)—after the disc, or vice-versa. It's hard to continue calling your band the Tortured Souls after you've gone and fallen in love with the drummer—which is just what Veirs did prior to writing and recording the new album. In the midst of that personal upheaval—Veirs and Martine's wholly unanticipated get-together closely followed the end of another, long-term relationship for Veirs—this determinedly restless artist also decided to relocate from Seattle to Portland.
Regardless of where Veirs resides along on the I-5 corridor, it's that special Northwest blend of hope and melancholy that makes her music so compelling (forget the whole Vega-Velvets-Venus' flytrap thing). And, needless to say, there's an awful lot of songwriting fodder to be found in her recent history. The central image in "Black Butterfly," Saltbreakers' penultimate song, encapsulates all that tension. Set against a "salt breeze Rose City sunset," Veirs sings a hopeful, almost respectful goodbye to the black butterfly of emotional anguish: "Spark up the stars/ Leave alone my heart/ I'm trying to be good by you all right, all right."
"They're less obscure, more direct," Veirs allows of her latest lyrics over coffee near her new, Alberta-district home. "I was feeling a lot—ending a long relationship, starting a new one; those things bring all kinds of questions to your mind, all kinds of sadness and excitement, the whole spectrum of emotion. I processed all that through these songs." In facing up to those dreams and demons, the indefinably magnetic Veirs has surpassed her own lofty standards—and left me at a welcome loss—yet again.