By: Kerry Miller
For American artists, getting hyped by the British press is both a tradition and a less-than-perfect indicator of success. On one hand, there’s Jimi Hendrix. On the other, the Polyphonic Spree. Though lauded as “unquestionably magnificent” and “quietly exquisite” in the U.K., Laura Veirs’ last two albums were largely ignored in the States, where the word “folk” hadn’t yet been re-branded as hip.
The recent popularity of neo-folk artists like Sufjan Stevens — with whom Veirs is set to tour this fall — will certainly help widen the audience of listeners receptive to Veirs’ latest work, Year of Meteors. But long before American avant-anti-folk and alt-post-country musicians had begun experimenting with prefixes, the Brits lumped it all together as “Americana” and declared it “the strongest musical movement to come out of America since grunge.” For artists like Veirs, the label is actually a fairly brilliant one, since the aesthetic they share is rooted more in the collective imaginings of the most evocative of American landscapes — the frontier West and the rustic South — than it is in actual geography.
While it’s convenient to attribute Veirs’ big-but-sparse sound to her upbringing in Colorado, the reverb pedal probably deserves more credit than the Rocky Mountains. While Veirs writes songs in her Seattle backyard that boasts a pear tree and a lovely sea breeze, she still lives in a city, and not a particularly folk-friendly city, either. Which isn’t to say that makes her style contrived: Iron & Wine is from Miami, not Faulknerian Mississippi, and the Thrills hail from Dublin, not Wilsonian California.
Though never as polarizing as, say, Joanna Newsom’s, Veirs’ admits her singing voice has always been her sore spot. “I didn’t have a very good voice when I started,” Veirs says. “It was raw, but in an untrained way, not a good way.” Meteors shows her voice has aged from untrained sort of rawness to a more interesting variety. “I like my voice,” she says now. “I’ve grown into it.” Fans of Sufjan, Devendra, and Joanna might have to agree.
Laura Veirs tour dates:
8/28, Seattle, WA (Woodland Park Zoo) – with Neko Case 9/7, Northampton, MA (Pearl St. Nightclub) *9/8, Boston, MA (Somerville Theater) * 9/9, Montreal, Canada (Cabaret La Tulipe) * 9/10, Toronto, Canada (Trinity/St. Paul’s Centre) * 9/11, Detroit, MI (Majestic Theater) *9/12, Grand Rapids, MI (Calvin College) * 9/13, Cleveland, OH (Beachland Ballroom * 9/14, Newport, KY (Southgate House) *9/15, New York, NY (Hiro Ballroom – CMJ Music Marathon)9/16, Chicago, IL (Metro) * (* – with Sufjan Stevens)