Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Singer/songwriter Laurel Brauns' album is crisp and refreshing

November 22, 2011

I much prefer Colorado to Cozumel. Everything seems clearer, cleaner and more alive up in the mountains. I know that some prefer the easy pace of tropical living, but I associate it with sunburns and itchy sand. I relax much easier on a cabin porch in the woods.

Singer/songwriter Laurel Brauns’ blog is titled Indie Girl in a Mountain Town, and that aesthetic informs all of House of Snow. The album possesses a clear, crisp, refreshing sound that reminds me of my time in Colorado Springs: relaxed, unhurried, simple. From beginning to end, the album ripples with a pleasant, confident vibe. It’s the soundtrack to the montage of good moments before the real trouble of the film sets in.

Brauns’ songwriting pulls from inspiration from the folk sounds expected of a rural, high mountains community, but there’s also a lot of modern singer/songwriter mixed in her sound. Highlight “Westfall” sounds more like Brandi Carlile than Mumford and Sons, and “Kaleidoscope Eyes” is very much the same. “Puppy Love” draws more from a ’50s pop groove than anything else. “Dreams” is reminiscent of angrier singer/songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, and even Damien Rice.

Throughout the tapestry of tunes weaves a few consistent threads: acoustic guitar, hefty string contributions, and Brauns’ dusky alto voice. The strings are the most surprisingly element of the sound, as they are employed in very different ways, from the forceful thrust of “Dreams” to the graceful swoon of the title track. The album would certainly not be the same without them.

Brauns’ alto is most often the counterpoint to the strings, delivering melodies that ping off the strings and hook in the listener’s mind. She does have elements of more traditional country and bluegrass singers (Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, etc.) in her voice, but her songs are varied enough that she doesn’t get pigeonholed into anyone’s footsteps.

House of Snow is a wonderful listen; in an age where the album is getting less and less love, this one is a whole and complete piece. There are standout tunes, but they sound even better in the context of the whole work. That’s something that I admire in a release, which is why I am so enamored with Laurel Brauns efforts here. If you’re up for a folksy, charming album, this one should be on your shortlist.

Terra Naomi's strong pop songwriting oozes confidence

September 1, 2011

I connect with highly idiosyncratic singer/songwriters: Regina Spektor, Brandi Carlile, Owen Pallett, The Mountain Goats. If she’s gunning for entry the Great American Songbook, she must be immediately distinguishable or as suave as Paul Simon.

Terra Naomi trends more toward the latter in To Know I’m OK. She projects a superb confidence throughout this collection of pop songs, even when she gets vulnerable. That attribute alone is enough to carry this album of piano and acoustic guitar-led tunes. Whether appropriating Ingrid Michaelson/Regina Spektor perkiness (“You For Me”), Brandi Carlile emotional bravura (“Someday Soon,” “To Know I’m OK”) or Kelly Clarkson drama (“Not Sorry”), Naomi sells the tunes assuredly. She owns these tunes, no matter who produced them, what sound they resemble or who covers them. All four of those songs are hits waiting to happen.

Naomi leans heavily on songcraft because no element of her sound has massive takeaway value. Her voice, instrumentation, arrangement and production are all solid, but each part is in place to serve the melody and lyric.

Paul Simon crafted unassuming, brilliant tunes through subtle hooks and devastating emotional turns, and Naomi does the same when she’s at her best. Nuance is lost on “If I Could Stay” and “Everybody Knows,” but fans of straightforward women’s singer/songwriter fare will love them (bonus: Rachel Yamagata contributes guest vocals on both tracks).

To Know I’m OK is a heartfelt, magnetic album of pop songs that shows off Naomi’s skills. You won’t be disappointed when you check out “You For Me” and the title track.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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