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Singer/songwriter Laurel Brauns is best known, along with cellist Amy Mitchell, as part of the band Sweet Harlots, but now Brauns has moved back to Portland from Bend brandishing a beauteous solo record called House of Snow. Recorded in a small nursery school here in town, Snow features an enviable selection of guest musicians, including the Golden Bears' Seth Lorinczi, the Decemberists' Jenny Conlee, and plenty others. With equal hints of dusky bluegrass and clarion Celtic folk, Brauns has written a batch of tunes that are brimming with earthy pulchritude, highlighted by her remarkable vocals and subtle but involving production from Portland Cello Project's Douglas Jenkins. Remarkable songs like the gamboling "Maps" and the stirring, album-opening title track prove that Brauns has made a record destined to become an evergreen.

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 titledIndie 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.

Laurel Brauns plays in Bend

by Ben Salmon

In the run-up to recording her new album, local singer-songwriter Laurel Brauns dedicated herself to the study of her craft.

A veteran tunesmith, she was tired of the “mopey, folky” sound of her first three full-length albums, so she decided to “start from scratch” and went about relearning how to write a song.

“For so long, I thought I was so above buying (songwriting) books,” Brauns said in a telephone interview Monday. “And when I decided to do this album I was like, ‘Nope, I'm going to be humble and buy all the books and really start from the beginning and think about what makes a great song.'

“I totally nerded out and allowed myself to revisit the learning process,” she said. She also formed a songwriting group with Franchot Tone and Eric Tollefson.

“I sort of listen to music in a really different way now,” Brauns said. “And I really like that I can feel like I have all these tools in my belt.”

For example?

“Cliches are cliches for a reason,” she said without much hesitation. “Instead of running screaming from them, it's a good idea to think about why people use them all the time, but then twist them around so it doesn't sound like a cliche, but the sentiment is still there.”

Speaking of cliches: Near the end of this month, Brauns' life will come full circle when she moves to Portland to further her music career. It's where she went to college, where she cut her teeth on open-mic nights, and where she left when she moved to New Hampshire years ago ... to further her music career.

That worked. In New Hampshire — where Brauns, 33, grew up — she played regular gigs at colleges and coffeehouses, picking up steam until she just couldn't keep up anymore. In late 2007, she moved to Bend, where her sister lived (and lives) and the outdoor lifestyle beckoned.

“I was really bogged down with my music career in New England, and I got kinda burned out,” she said. “I was basically like, ‘What's something else that makes you happy besides music that you can put energy into for a little while?' And it was being outside.”

Four years later, Brauns has spent her share of time outside. She has hiked all over, used most of her vacation time on whitewater rafting trips, and learned to skate ski and kayak.

“I still can't do Class 4 (rapids) nor do I have a roll,” she said. “But you know, I'll get there.”

Tonight, Brauns will celebrate the release of her fourth album, “House of Snow,” with a show in Bend (see “If you go”). At 12 tracks and 42 minutes long, it's a compact slice of her life, merging Brauns' Central Oregon experiences with her love of indie-folk-pop and the independent artistic sensibilities of her soon-to-be home, Portland.

The latter comes in the form of several Portland-based guest musicians, including cellists Skip vonKuske and Anna Fritz of Portland Cello Project, organist Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cooper of Horse Feathers.

Additionally, Nathan Clark lends his sturdy baritone to the proceedings, Tone plays guitar on a couple of songs, and a chorus of locals take the second track, “Doldrums,” to an ethereal place. A twisted Okkervil River cover and Bend artist Kaycee Anseth's album art round out the impressive package.

Brauns snagged many of the guests through Portland Cello Project ringleader Douglas Jenkins, who produced the album. She met him at a PCP show in Bend 18 months ago, then collaborated with the group at a Tower Theatre concert, and then toured with them for a week last summer.

Brauns calls their connection “magical fate,” and you can almost hear some magic in the songs on “House of Snow.” First and foremost, they feature Brauns' easy-on-the-ears melodies and distinctively quivering vocals, which are guaranteed to mesh together and rattle around your brain for a good long while.

But tastefully placed instrumental touches — Conlee's organ, John Whaley's trumpet and so on — give “Snow” a warm, full timbre perfect for a quiet evening inside listening to music or a night outside around the fire pit.

It's that kind of imagery that not only colors Brauns' songs, but has colored her four years in Central Oregon. She said she considers Bend home, but that right now, a move to Portland makes sense.

“I need to be there to make it happen,” she said. “You've got to meet the people, shake their hands, see ‘em face to face. They've got to hear you play. I think we all delude ourselves (into thinking) the Internet's this hugely powerful thing that can make all this stuff happen for us, but there's nothing like actually talking to somebody.”

But as she returns to the town she once left and to a more spirited pursuit of her music, she's doing so in a more balanced way.

“(In New Hampshire), I had just gotten out of college and thought, ‘Oh God, I have to do all this to be some famous whatever,'” she said. “And now I don't care about that. I just want to have great gigs and kind of be working toward something, but also make sure I'm healthy and staying outside.”

Ben Salmon can be reached at 541-383-0377 or bsalmon@bendbulletin.com.

Here is the song Kaleidoscope Eyes, from Laurel's CD Release in Bend at the PoetHouse:

 

House of Snow - Review

 

While she’s been best known as the face of the ever-evolving Sweet Harlots, Laurel Brauns still doesn't mind going solo, and she does so excellently on her new album, House of Snow, which she’s releasing this week with a big party at the PoetHouse on Friday night.

The record, adorned with impossibly awesome cover art by Kaycee Anseth, is an indie folk gem and evidence of a songwriter with influences that are at the same time contemporary and classic. On the album’s title track, Braun’s folk sensibilities shine through an orchestral tapestry as brightly as her trademark streak of blonde hair. That song, as well as others, including the emotional “Named After You,” gets some help from a bevy of excellent Portland musicians, including The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee and members of the Portland Cello Project. In fact, Douglas Jenkins, the creative director of the popular string ensemble that backs her throughout the album, produced and arranged the album.

House of Snow is a follow up to Brauns’ last solo effort, Closed for the Season, but whereas that album featured an almost Ani DiFranco-inspired edge to it, this album is far smoother in its presentation, seemingly drawing on the folk rock sounds that have all but dominated indie music in the Northwest for the past few years. We hear this most on her cover of Okkervil River’s “Westfall” and the whimsical “Love.” It’s been a pleasure watching Brauns’ progress during her time in Bend and this album reveals an artist who seems to have found her footing. – Mike Bookey

Former Portsmouth musician Laurel Brauns and local band Wooden Eye join ‘Idol’ finalist Scott MacIntyre for a show to benefit the blind.

By Matt Kanner

It was almost exactly four years ago that singer-songwriter Laurel Brauns packed up and headed west to pursue the next chapter of her music career. The former Portsmouth resident has been living in Bend, Ore., ever since, where she’s been fine-tuning her skills as a songwriter and performer. Her fourth full-length studio album, her first since moving to Oregon, came out in September.

“I really thought a lot about songwriting and basically studied it really hard,” Brauns said of her approach to the new disc, titled “House of Snow.” “I had a lot of time last winter to just dig in really deep with the songwriting process.”

Brauns will have a chance to show Seacoast fans what she’s learned when she returns for a concert on Saturday, Oct. 8, at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Called “Voices of Vision,” the show will benefit the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. It will also feature local band Wooden Eye and Scott MacIntyre, the first blind performer to become a finalist on “American Idol.”

Brauns became involved in the concert after her friend Andrew Leibs, a blind journalist, encouraged the association to include her. “When they decided to have this fundraiser, he swayed them into booking me,” she said.

Brauns’ work as a musician has put her in touch with several blind people over the years, making the cause personal for her. She said the blind tend to have a strong connection with music.

“That sense for them is so heightened,” she said. “They have an attraction to music, particularly, as an art form, and that has definitely gotten me connected with a lot of blind people.”

Blindness is also personal for Wooden Eye front man Mike Rogers, who lost his vision more than 30 years ago. Formerly a teacher, Rogers gradually went blind around 1978. He agreed that being without sight can heighten one’s appreciation of music.

“You learn to use your hearing,” he said. “It’s not that you’re hearing is greater than other people’s, but you make more use of it because you have to.”

Rogers has participated in a number of benefits for people with disabilities, including work with the Maine Arts Commission’s Accessibility Task Force. He sings and plays harmonica for Wooden Eye, a bluesy Americana band that also features his son, Joe Rogers, on drums. A friend of his son’s who is involved with the Association for the Blind invited the band to take part in the upcoming concert.

“We were happy to do that,” Rogers said.

Both Brauns and Rogers have performed on The Music Hall’s stage before. Rogers has played there twice, once with John Perreault and once with Jim MacDougall & The Funky Divas of Gospel. Brauns opened for Patty Larkin at the theater in 2006.

MacIntyre has toured across North America and around the world. The singer-songwriter and pianist finished eighth in “American Idol” in 2009 and released his latest CD, “Heartstrings,” in 2010. This will be his first show in Portsmouth.

It’s been about a year since Brauns last returned to the Seacoast. Her parents still live in the Lakes Region where she grew up, and she tries to come home about once a year. She paid a visit in September 2010 and played a gig at The Red Door in Portsmouth, where she used to book shows in the Hush Hush Sweet Harlot series. After moving to Oregon, she started a band called the Sweet Harlots.

“We did a lot of Americana and covers and stuff. People in this town like to dance and drink and talk and it was sort of more of like a party band,” she said.

Her latest solo album represents a new summit for Brauns, with lush string arrangements draped from her stirring folk melodies and tremulous vocals. She plans to move to Portland, Ore., this winter and reignite her solo career. “A new album is a great starting point to jumpstart the solo thing again,” she said.

Brauns is looking forward to the concert at The Music Hall, where she hopes to see plenty of familiar faces.

“I feel really blessed. What an incredible opportunity,” she said.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8 at The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, 603-436-2400, www.themusichall.org. Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 day of show.

Voices of Vision concert this Saturday

by Chris Hislop

It's been nearly four years since Laurel Brauns last released a record — 2007's "Closed for the Season." What's more is it seems like an eternity since Brauns left the N.H. Seacoast for great adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Brauns, who grew up in the Lakes Region, called Portsmouth home for many years, booking the Hush, Hush, Sweet Harlot series (she now has a band called the Sweet Harlots out in Oregon), and working the local and regional circuit as well as a singer-songwriter, releasing three albums while residing in the great Granite State. Her departure left a void in the hearts and ears of many local music fans.

Fast-forward to 2011, and Brauns is back, offering up her latest, "House of Snow." To say the album is "much anticipated" is an understatement. For a little while, it wasn't clear if she'd be hitting us with new sounds again. But fear not, her travels in the West have provided her the inspiration to put out some of her best work to date. Though she's not heading back east to dwell and reside among us again (just yet), she will be in the area for a performance in celebration of the release at The Music Hall on Saturday, Oct. 8 as part of the "Voices of Vision" fundraiser to benefit the N.H. Association for the Blind.

"House of Snow" does not disappoint. Brauns' blend of indie-folk with gothic chamber-pop undertones has long been her staple, but she has seemed to refine this sound and has made it more accessible this time around. That's not to say it wasn't solid before. It has just aged rather well with years of wisdom and worldly experience that now reside within her being and soul. Her conspicuous vocals tendencies paired with contributions from Sam Cooper (Horse Feathers) — banjo, drums, piano, Jenny Conlee (the Decemberists) — piano and organ, Skip VonKuske (Vagabond Opera) — cello, John Whaley (Run On Sentence) — trumpet, and Franchot Tone (Culver City Dub Collective) — guitars; really set the tone for an album that flows like a piece of literature. The ethereal imagery that Brauns so expertly weaves into the lyrical content of her songs is evocative and inspiring. "House of Snow," hits the listener on several levels.

"I hope people can realize a greater appreciation for being alive and the depth of the human experience," Brauns said in a recent interview. "There are sad songs on here, happy ones, songs about murder, and love, and dreams and rivers, feeling desperately in love, and feeling whimsical and not caring. I think there are some really solid songs on the record that have the potential to take on a life of their own. I'm also really happy with the production. It was produced and arranged by Douglas Jenkins of the Portland Cello Project, and I think he did a killer job on the string arrangements and production in general, and we had a string of Portland's finest musicians, so it has been cool to have that association with those folks."

The 12 tunes (11 originals, and a cover of Okkervil River's "Westfall") that make up "House of Snow," are a beautiful depiction of a woman who has spent years riding casually down the river, through the calm and the rapids, experiencing serenity and trepidation — gaining wisdom and a new-found perception on what it is to be alive and living. Whilst this record may prove to be the culmination of the adventures and guise of the singer who penned and crafted these tunes, I'd like to think it's just the beginning.

House of Snow - a Melodic Album from Laurel Brauns

by Renee Patrick

 

With the release of her fourth album and an imminent move to Portland, Laurel Brauns is poised to fully pursue a career in music. The album, House of Snow, is a thoughtful and melodic work recently launched on September 16.

Brauns’ lyrics evoke her love of the water and the beauty found in simple nature scenes. Her song writing has evolved from the past few albums with her desire to write for the listener rather than herself. What has resulted, she explains, is a happier album.

“I want to be more mature in the song writing process. It’s a competitive industry, it’s hard to get traction, and I feel that I have more potential of progression if I make music that is accessible,” Brauns said. She spent the winter crafting her writing process with the help of local musicians Franchot Tone and Eric Tollefson.

Brauns is proactive about collaborating with other artists on House of Snow, and the effort has added layers of texture to her songs. Track two, Doldrums, features a chorus of local musicians, Erin Cole-Baker, Mark Ranson, Patrick Pearsall and Katie Brauns; the effect is a haunting ballad of longing in one of the strongest songs on the album.

Dreams has the most distinct sound with Brauns’ voice backed by rhythmic strings and percussion with influences of the Decemberists’ style.

Unlike Brauns’ previous three albums, she had creative director of the Portland Cello Project, Douglas Jenkins, produce and arrange House of Snow. On Swimming, Periphery and Closed for the Season, Brauns created the songs much more haphazardly with extended jam sessions that evolved into the recorded music. Jenkins’ structure resulted in a well crafted album with tracks that create her most cohesive work to date.

Since she works as a freelance writer and marketing professional, Brauns has the flexibility to start focusing her efforts on touring, specifically among the wineries in the valley.

While we will miss her influence in Bend, Brauns is certain to take the success of House of Snow over the mountains. Take the time to listen; her album is the perfect accompaniment to a fall evening sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine.

www.laurelbrauns.com

To "Brooklyn" and back
Laurel Brauns Travels the East Coast on 'Closed for the Season.'


Following hot on the heels of Jose Ayerve and his many-membered Spouse, Laurel Brauns shows it's positively de rigueur to employ a harem of guest musicians in crafting an album thatss perfectly cohesive. Brauns features no fewer than 11 of the Seacoast's finest playing 12 different instruments on her third full-length, Closed for the Season, and she owes considerable credit to celebrated songwriter Jon Nolan for creating a polished folk-rock sound while recording in what's described as an old converted wood shop with no running water and slanted floors in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

It's easy to see why musicians would be willing to lend Brauns their talents. On the title track, the third on the album and the first where we hear her un-doubled or affected, it becomes clear she has, like Erin McKeown (featured on that Spouse disc), a voice that knocks you over with a little bit of carnival mania. Or maybe she's like Regina Spektor, with a range that's wonderful, but full of angles, jagged edges, nooks and crannies. You can live inside of that voice. It's almost enough to make you miss the finger snaps that accompany the chords picked out high up the fretboard of Audrey Ryan's mandolin, testing your treble levels for crispness. "Snowflakes fall like newborn babies," Brauns says of our winter season, "but both prefer a life based on maybe."

She's smart, too, managing to create songs about the places that surround us without calling our attention to the obvious. North 93 is about a highway almost not at all. Where some artists with a "sense of place" just beat the concept utterly dead, Brauns uses local place names (you'll also catch "Strawbery Banke") in the same way the Mammals name-drop Peaks Island on Evolver: just to hit you with a punch of associated emotion and dance back away. Here, the verses are fairly rote, but the chorus, featuring the Minus Scale's Derek Archambault on backing vocals, is pretty damn great. "We slept in our clothes, under the evergreens/We've done nothing wrong, yet waking so awkwardly; the multi-gendered vocals let the mind wander to all sorts of possibilities. She's got a bit of Michael Stipe in her, both here in a melodic REM chorus and later when she asks, Do you still think the moon is following you?"

Beware the coda. When Brauns offers, "I'll be laying in lakes this year, till they freeze," I feel the ice trickling down the back of my neck.

On the album's hidden track (it'll show up as Mystery Track in your iTunes, with exactly 10 minutes of silence), she even takes the tired songwriting convention of life on the road playing in flea-bitten rat traps and rises above it, mostly with drug references, which the 14-year-old in me will always appreciate, but also with a demo-style recording that puts her vocal talent on display with only a spare piano accompaniment. I'll think I'll chug a beer, go walking, she sings, Cuz the manager is high on Oxycontin."

It's a fitting pair for Brauns' response to Ryan Adams' "Sylvia Plath," from Gold, for which she only uses a finger-picked acoustic guitar. I often get frustrated with singer/songwriters because they only give me a voice and a guitar, and so often that's not halfway enough, but Brauns doesn't need anything else, that's clear. Her "Sylvia Plath" is a gleaming diamond of a song. Adams is desperate for a gal who'd "slip me a pill/Then she'd get pretty loaded on gin;" "Yes, I'll take you to France," Brauns purrs, We'll get fucked up on gin/And we'll dance, and we'll dance."

How you'd turn down that promise, I'm not sure.

When Brauns features a full band, the results are nearly as good, but for a couple of cello- and violin-heavy tracks late in the album that feel like filler. Her disc-opener, "Outside," brings off a soubrette quaver wonderfully, breathtakingly melancholy. At on point, she's "waiting for the power lines to fall," and with that last syllable she perfectly apes the British accent Peter Gabriel retains on his So record, along with the doubled and affected vocals. For the dark shuffle that is the abortion narrative of "Roisin Dubh," the many-layered vocals on the eponymous chorus are evil sirens.

Brauns, like Katrina Abramo earlier this year, leads with her vocals and follows with superior songwriting and guest performances. Where Abramo leans toward the indie rock, however, Brauns is more earthy, imbued with the greenery of Celtic influences and the warmth of acoustic instruments.

Do you know the mysticism of Baron Munchausen? Brauns channels it, particularly in the orchestral jazz of "Cinderella." "Find your lipstick, but hide knives inside your boots," she advises. "Tell all the boys you love to leave them/And they'll never win you back."


Oh, how they'll try.

String Sisters

The female acoustic powerhouse that is the Sweet Harlots


by Mike Bookey

I hadn't exactly heard the Sweet Harlots when I arrived at a classically cozy house near Harmon Park. I'd heard of the duo, and I'd heard music by each of the members of the group, but it isn't until Laurel Brauns begins strumming her guitar and Julie Southwell commences massaging melodies out of her voilin in the living room of the aforementioned house that I fully taste the Sweet Harlots.

The two names of this duo should be familiar to anyone with an ear on the local music scene. Brauns is a singer-songwriter who toured through Bend over the past few years before moving here last fall and releasing her indie-rock influenced folk record "Closed for the Season." Southwell, of course, is the seasoned and classically trained violinist who has played with a range of local acts including Moon Mountain Ramblers, Blackstrap and David Bowers.

The two met while cross-country skiing this past winter and their friendship soon descended from the mountains to Southwell's home for the practice sessions out of which the somewhat peculiarly named Sweet Harlots were born.

"I've always wanted to have an all-girl band. I love the word 'harlot' because it isn't used in everyday conversation and hints at the Victorian and forbidden... there is definitely an element of irony to that," says Brauns.

The Sweet Harlots is a collaboration of two of Bend's finest female musicians, hense I'm not all that shocked when the concert-for-one in Southwell's living room, a variation of the title track from Brauns' album, is remarkably rich for a duo. Brauns' slightly DiFranco-esque voice leads the way while Southwell's violin laces the song together with melodic stiching. Southwell, strictly a fiddler when she played in other acts, also pitches in with some complimentary vocal harmonies. Perhaps most refreshingly, this one-song performance makes it clear that the Sweet Harlots are not the soft-strumming, whispering team that some might expect from a female collaboration.

While Brauns' originals make up a sizeable chunk of the Harlots' set, the two have also immersed themselves in traditional Irish music in the hopes of adding another dimension to the act. I ask if they'd consider striving toward a reputation as a primarily Irish act. Southwell shrugs.

"We could probably get away with that," Southwell says. Brauns laughs.

"I wouldn't want to label us as that," Brauns interjects, still laughing. "But I wouldn't mind if McMenamins could hire us to play St. Patrick's Day."

Southwell is soft spoken, constantly friendly, and slightly serious. Brauns, in contrast, is bubbly, outspoken and funny. The differences continue beyond personality as I realize when eyeing Southwell's CD collection, which includes the likes of David Grisman and a host of Indian artists, while Brauns tells me about her love for bands like Iron & Wine and Modest Mouse. But both are unequivocally complimentary of each other's abilities. It's almost like the two are fans of each other first and band mates second.

"She had these beautiful chord changes and rhythm changes that take you on a journey. That's one of my favorite things, is to play with a great singer-songwriter that really stretches me," Southwell says.

While at its heart, the band is a duo, the two have been toying with the idea of adding a bass player (preferably of the female persuasion) and will also have Shireen Amini joining in on percussion duties for upcoming shows. Ideally, Brauns wants to keep it an all-female act, which is admirable in a town that has hardly any (if any) such bands.

"It think it's a powerful image to have a bunch of women onstage," she says.

There will be "a bunch" of women, well at least two, on stage in the coming weeks as the Harlots play a string of shows including Tuesday night appearances at the Summit's ladies night, at Silver Moon on Saturday and an appearance at McMenamins next Wednesday.

Those are some busy Harlots.

Laurel Brauns
Closed for the Season
self-released


Laurel Brauns made a strong impression on me before I even heard the first song on her new CD, Closed for the Season. With song titles like "North 93," "I'll Be Your Sylvia Plath," "Strawberry Banke," and "Shane MacGowan," I was intrigued. I scanned the lyrics, finding imagery and subject matter as varied as mid-nineteenth-century New Hampshire, Persephone, snow angels, claymation, and Super 8 movies. Even if she couldn't sing, I thought to myself, Lauren Brauns seems like the type of person I'd want to invite to a dinner party.

Luckily for listeners of this wide-ranging collection, Brauns can sing. The Portsmouth-based performer brings her unique blend of indie-folk and indie-rock to Portland's Blue this Saturday for a party celebrating the album's release. The intimate downtown venue should be an ideal locale for Brauns to showcase her considerable vocal abilities. On Closed for the Season, she ranges from the hushed, neo-folk warble of "I'll Be Your Sylvia Plath," to the intense sharpness of "Strawberry Bank," and the earnest clarity of "Cinderella."

Brauns' songwriting style is, fittingly, conversational. Often addressing an ambiguous "you," she sings of a longing for an innocence that never existed, a truth between lies, and the simple comfort a road-weary soul will drive for hours to find.

Nowhere is this style more evident than on the melancholic road tune "North 93": "In the picture your sister is laughing out loud, as your dad pulled the sled and you danced around. First snow in a town a few exits from mine, but the story it told we both knew was a lie . . . When are you coming home to New Hampshire? When will you be driving the North 93? And if you're so determined, I'll be laying in lakes this year till they freeze."


Closed for the Season has its moments of grin-inducing humor, too. The two shortest songs on the CD, "I'll Be Your Sylvia Plath" (1:28) and "Shane MacGowan" (1:37), reveal Brauns' willingness to find irony and black humor amid the often critical introspection of her songwriting. "I'll find a reason to lay here all season, let the cigarette gardens grow. Yes, I'll take you to France. We'll get fucked up on gin and we'll dance and we'll dance. I'll be your Sylvia Plath."

Through the famously besotted Pogues singer MacGowan, she reluctantly faces her own demons: "I don't want to be Shane MacGowan. He falls off the stage and makes such a charade... But the man knows how to drink till he can't even think. Sometimes I could be Shane MacGowan."

The best example of Brauns' merging of humor and her keen eye for detail arrives on the last, unlisted "mystery track" on the disc, a song about seasonal work in the service industry. "I think I'll go chug a beer in the walk-in," she begins, "cuz the manager is high on Oxycotins. And the people on the deck, they can't believe the view. Can I convince them we are worthy of the next buck or two?" It ends, like many of her songs, a bit wistfully: "I've spent the summer wasting, but it's been ten seasons long." It's obvious here and everywhere else on "Closed for the Season" that she knows of what she sings.

Brauns will be performing with a full band at Blue, which also should be a treat. Closed for the Season is awash in wonderful instrumentation, particularly the cello of Kristin Miller and Nate Horton, Caroline Kokko's violin, and the tasteful touches of pedal steel by former Say ZuZu member Jon Nolan, who produced this album. Arrive early and get a good seat for an evening of interesting conversation and some fine music from an intriguing artist.

Tom Flynn

Laurel Brauns performs Sat., April 14, at Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland, at 8 p.m. Free (21+). 774-4111. www.portcityblue.com. For more on Brauns, visit www.laurelbrauns.com

Finding Truth on the Road
The Source, Bend, OR


by Melissa Bearns

Most musicians like to stop and give an interview from the calm of a hotel room. Not Laurel Brauns. Often on the move, she believes recording is more important then recording. So she's on the road a lot. When I caught up with her, she was driving with her cello player to their next gig, somewhere between Milwaukee and some random little town in Illinois.

After years of playing in podunk towns across the country, people finally know her name. Her voice is clear like a wind chime, multilayered like a symphony, and as rich as the memory of one of her song's characters, Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who tilled the soil growing canola for fifty years.

Last summer she lived in a tend in Alaska's Denali Park waiting tables and playing at the local bar to pay off the debt she racked up producing her newest album Periphery, released on her label, Red Trail Records. She recorded her first album Swimming, in a basement, and the song quality on Periphery is a huge step up.

The professional recording does wonders for capturing the subtle nuances of her haunting melodies and lyrics that dig into the heart of America while intertwining the influences of Irish ballads. The improvements are also due to influence of her producer Larry Crane, who other clients include Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney.

With her current home base in Portland and her family in New Hampshire (she spends winters teaching snowboarding), she's traversed the country gathering inspiration and funneling it into her music.

"Take Alaska, it's inspired me because it changed my life," she said. "I had to grow up. It was a stressful situation. Some great songs with come out of it as soon as I get sometime to sit down and write them."

Logging thousands of miles on the road, it's out there some where that she meets her characters and then gives you, the listener, a little peek into their stories. Her words could stand alone as poetry but combined with sometimes wistful, sometimes exuberant, flowing melodies, they're redolent of the air in a coffee shop in Anytown, USA -- thoughtful, tasty, and deep. She puts you right out there in the cornfield under the wide-open skies and through the stories of individuals, she brushes against universal human questions and truth.

On Periphery she's backed by the band Queen Anne's Lace, formed specifically to record the album and also to play around Portland. She follows the tradition of some great female artists and if you like Ani, Jewel, Sarah or Tori don't miss this show Brauns is as good, if not better. She's got a sound and style all her own and never stoops to whiney wailing.

Laurel Brauns - Strawbery Banke
The Wire


Laurel Brauns can do the siren singer-songwriter thing, casting her sterling voice into songs about wide skies and maze-like hearts. But her writing comes with claws, a darker, gothic undercurrent that brought an undertow to her two full-length albums, "Swimming" and "Periphery." A self-described "trad-music geek" who studied Celtic music, she grew up in central New Hampshire, clocked time busking in Ireland, and became a genuine scholar of indie rock when she wrote her college thesis on Pacific Northwest labels like Kill Rock Stars and Sub Pop. Brauns brings to bear all of her Celtic and indie influences on the haunting "Strawbery Banke," where cellos and dark finger-picked acoustic guitar all but surround you with the ghosts of the bygone characters the song speaks of.

Though she's settled in Portsmouth, Brauns still tours on both coasts, and she just completed a three-song demo that includes Marc McElroy on the bass and behind the mixing board, Nate Horton on drums and cello, and Jon Nolan on bass and electric guitar. But Brauns is as adept with a Rolodex as a guitar: after coming back to New Hampshire, she became the emcee of the highly successful Hush Hush Sweet Harlot series where she books both local and out-of-town talent to frequently sold-out rooms and she handles press for the new Broken Sparrow label. Whether she's booking John Vanderslice in a close-up and personal show at the Red Door or dragging artists from the West Coast to play in our town, Brauns has given a major boost to the local indie and singer-songwriter scene. Believe her when she says, in a nod to the Saddle Creek scene, that Portsmouth could be "the next Omaha" we'd take her over Conor Oberst any day.

New Artist with a New CD hits the Seacoast in April
The Wire


It is obvious from listening to Laurel Brauns' second CD, Periphery, that she has lived life as if fired from a slingshot. Touring and traveling both the East and West coasts, she has accumulated indelible memories of places and people throughout the country. The CD's track list, in this sense, is like a collection of wistful Polaroids. The songs, whether they involve love, politics or road trips, have the feeling of unrepentant nostalgia, reflecting 24 years worth of insight and experience.

Periphery was recorded in Portland, Ore., which along with New Hampshire, Alaska and Ireland, is one of the places she had called home. Right now she is back in New England, living in the Lakes Region and performing throughout the Seacoast. On Thursday, April 8, she will be appearing at Biddy Mulligan's in Dover, and on Monday, April 12 she will be playing at the Red Door in Portsmouth.

"A lot has changed with the music scene here," Brauns said. "Everything going on around the Seacoast makes me really excited."

Over the past several years, Brauns has fallen into a routine of spending winters in New Hampshire, where she often performs at ski lodges, and then heading back out west for fresh inspiration. Her lyrically charged compositions relate loosely outlined but powerfully illustrated stories with a wide variety of settings. Spending a year in Ireland helped establish her emphasis on colorful narration.

"Living, studying and playing (in Ireland) reiterated the need for a story to come through, as most Irish ballads tell a story," she explained.

Stylistically, Brauns had swallowed numerous comparisons from critics. Though often flattering, being equated to other artists steals from the unique quality of her work. Musical comparisons, like musical genres, can be limiting and odious. Suffice to say that she's a singer with a great voice, afflicted with reality and pain, but still gentle and resilient, and she's a songwriter with poetic, lyrical talent. There is a tension in her songs created by a sense of hope and strength that is submerged beneath, but is steadily rising through, a thick substrate of melancholy and mourning. The songs on her new CD are strong and the guitar and violin work is of high quality. If there's a criticism to be made, it's that there is little thematic variation musically. Though each song is enjoyable and thought-provoking, there is not one that surprises the listener by its contrast with the others.

Perhaps that contrast would be more evident in live performances, which she considers to be of greater importance than her CD. Recording in the studio she says, is "not anything compared with playing live." Only in the intimate atmosphere of a live performance can the Irish folk spirit be properly harnessed.

Her subject matter is diverse. Brauns spans the seasonal and geographical fluctuations of America in her 10-track album. Accusations of "heavy lyrics" should be considered a compliment rather then a criticism. People who want to hear songs about life sung lite need only to turn on the radio to be satisfied. The issues Brauns deals with are more complex and much more impressively articulated. "Backroads" deals in part with reactions to the World Trade Center bombing. "Percy Schmeiser" tells the story of a farmer battling the encroachment of corporate America on his land. "Bankrupt on Selling" critiques the inherent flaws of capitalism.

"The whole marriage of art and politics can be really effective. "Brauns says of her politically oriented writing. She has been involved in a number of protests but has found that music is a less intimidating device for bring issues to public attention.

But not all of her songs are political. And her poetry excels in descriptions of simple things. Describing an old high school friend, for example: "She road a motor bike and left skid marks on our high school lawn. She made her own scarf, stitched from florescent scraps of yarn."

Periphery also benefits from the production skills of Larry Crane, who has previously worked with such elite names as Elliot Smith and Sleater-Kinney. Crane started Tape Op Magazine, in which he has heavily praised Brauns' music.

Brauns is excited not only about her own contributions to the Seacoast music scene, but about any new band that emerges in the area. She recently started a Lakes Region Public Access show called the Coffeehouse, aimed at providing exposure for local artists and bands. She is aware of the importance of supporting the local music community, whether it be by performing, interviewing, or simply listening and watching.

Talk to the Red Door: Brauns launches Hush, Hush Sweet Harlot

The Portland Phoenix


Most nights of the week, the Red Door in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, caters to a chic after-work crowd with a menu of gourmet martinis "try the ginger pear, it's fab” and DJs that spin trance and house beats. But on Mondays, a different scene takes over: Dressed in denim and hoodies, they occupy every leather stool, loveseat, and pillow-strewn couch in the room to listen intently to acoustic music. The room's dark-red walls and wooden beams start to look more like a country inn than an urban lounge, and the crowd's so still that you can almost hear the musicians think.

Ever since the Hush, Hush Sweet Harlot series came back to life at the beginning of January, every Monday night has been like this, part coffeehouse singer-songwriter night, part indie-rock concert, and part hootenanny. The cover's just a $5 donation in the tip bucket, and the Red Door's manager, Cresta Smith, has sweetened the deal by pricing PBRs at $2 and martinis at $5. And so far, every night has pulled a crowd. Last week, Lazarus's organ-seared Americana warmed up the room for Tigersaw, who performed un-amped, in a semi-circle that cradled the front seats; the Castanets, who had come all the way from San Diego, followed with their own deathly spare country, before Boston's Ponies in the Surf (who fought a blizzard to drive here from Belfast, Maine) wrapped up the show, and no one minded that Camille McGregor's voice was frayed. All told, you got four bands in three hours and you were home by midnight. not bad for a Monday.

The Hush, Hush series started last year in the hands of Sid Alexis, of the Hotel Alexis, and after a few months' hiatus it relaunched in January with a new booker, Laurel Brauns. Brauns was a regular performer at the original Hush, Hush; the Gilford, New Hampshire, native has traveled widely in the English-speaking world, from busking in Ireland to living in a tent in Alaska to save money for her recording, but Hush, Hush helped pull her back to New Hampshire.

"I never wanted to move back to New Hampshire, because I was like, 'All it is is jam bands,' " says Brauns. "But then when I met Sid and Jarid [del Deo, of Unbunny] and all those guys, I was like, 'Oh, there is something going on!'

"I know tons and tons of bands, and people on tour, and I was thinking, it's a really cool way to do favors for people," says Brauns. "It was handed to me in my lap, it already had been established, and there's a great room for it, so many people, especially in the indie acoustic world, have been so psyched about the space itself. And there's definitely an audience for it once it gets rolling."

Upbeat, a self-described workaholic, she still gigs around New England while she manages the series and well-connected in the indie scene, Brauns has been on the phone with national bands who are touring the East Coast. She hopes to land at least one touring act every month or so, along with regular acts from Boston to Portland. And she doesn't mind passing the tip jar more than once to make it worth the band's while. "I want people to be able to depend on it being worth their while to leave their house on a Monday night," says Brauns. "I'm all for people experimenting, having fun, especially if they're local. By all means, get your little experimental duo up there and go to town, that's fine. [But] I don't want it to become some glorified open-mic or anything."

The series is a boon for the Red Door, turning around the deadest night of the week with good crowds and one sell-out (the Unbunny/Jason Anderson concert, which had a line out the door in sub-zero weather). And for the foreseeable future, it'll stay on Mondays. "It started out on Wednesdays," recalls Brauns, "[but] the bar itself had built up enough of a following with the after-work, have-a-few-martinis folks that wanted to just go out and have a conversation, that the music series just really clashed with it, those people all just wanted to talk."

Hosting it in a martini lounge is no more bizarre than the other venues where local music has landed since the death of Portsmouth's only rock club, the Elvis Room. From the experimental and underground rock nights that take place in the basement of the Muddy River barbeque restaurant, to the terrific Jumbo Circus Peanuts bashes at the VFW Hall, Portsmouth has learned to cram its local talent into any place that will have it.

But indie rock has had few homes as consistent as Hush, Hush, and if the series keeps its momentum, it'll be the cornerstone of an underappreciated scene. Get Brauns talking and she'll reveal some big ambitions, even nodding hopefully to the city of frozen steaks and Bright Eyes: Omaha, Nebraska. "I don't want to say that [Portsmouth's] a no-name town, but a lot of bands feel self-conscious saying, 'I'm from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.' And to me, I feel like especially after the whole Omaha thing happened, there can be some pride in being from a town that's kind of random. Especially if there's something really, really awesome happening there."

Chris Dahlen can be reached at chris@savetherobot.com

Left of Center
Northwest Inlander


Laurel Brauns knows what is expected of her as a twenty-something female musician. And she knows that with her style of music, she's going to be automatically compared to Ani DiFranco. Unfortunately for the masses, Brauns neither writes the cliché lyrics of a 24-year old's struggle with relationships, and she doesn't think she sounds anything like DiFranco, although she thinks the compliment is nice.

But Brauns doesn't deny the fact that she has 24-year-old emotions.

"There's always a period of growth that I'm going through," she says about the differences among her four albums. "As an independent woman musician, it can get kind of complicated when I'm in relationships."

Her style, she says, attempts to find a union between folk and traditional rock.

"Rock lyrics tend to be more ambiguous. With folk, you're going to find more of a story and a theme."

Brauns, a New Hampshire native and a current resident of Portland, Ore. says that she likes to incorporate social commentary (like DiFranco) into her songs, while at the same time relating a story. She got her start as an indie-folk singer while living in Ireland. Brauns received a grant during college to study the political murals of West Belfast and Gerry -- murals that were of great significance to warring Protestants and Catholics. It was there that she began "busking" -- or becoming a street performer. She played her guitar on the sidewalks of Galway for anyone who would listen.

"There's something that happens, a physical reaction that happens, when I hear music," she says.

That passion carried her home, where she started to play her music in Boston bars, New England ski lodges and colleges across the country. She drew on her experiences for her lyrics, and the influence of artists like Tori Amos, P.J. Harvey, Bob Dylan and Tool. She soon released her first album, Swimming, while she attended Lewis and Clark College -- concentrating on folk rock and Celtic music.

With her family in New Hampshire, and her college in Oregon, Brauns started playing on both sides of the country. Now with a new album, Brauns is touring in the same fashion. She will begin her solo tour in Spokane with a free show at the Shop on Wednesday.

"Back there, they like the more traditional stuff that I do," she said of her East Coast audiences. "Out here, people are into hearing something different. So if do something weird, they are into it."

Her latest album, Periphery, is no exception. Brauns holds a different conversation with the listener during each track -- traversing among flying horses, plastic dolls, eating disorders and songs about past drug-addicted friends. In the last track, "Percy Schmeiser," Brauns talks about a canola farmer she met in Saskatchewan who had recently lost his farm to GMO monster Monsanto. She makes strong comments on the falling of the World Trade Center towers in her song "Backroads." In a press packet, the song is described as "a 'Star Spangled Banner' for the rest of us: the bike messengers and bellboys, the office temps and baristas, the dishwashers and cubicle-confined working stiffs."

Brauns chuckled at the description, saying that it wasn't her description -- but she thinks it's accurate.

"People took [Sept. 11] to be an excuse to be very patriotic and putting American flags on the back of their SUVs," she says. "It seemed like the mainstream had an unquestioning loyalty, instead of asking why something like that happened."

That attitude pervades all of her songs -- and she knows that, because of that, she isn't a mainstream artist. And that's exactly what she wants.

Periphery features her and a band of her friends -- a conglomeration of guitar, violin, cello, organ and mandolin. Brauns recorded the 10-track album at Portland's Jackpot! -- one of the city's most well known independent labels. Seeing the successes of other Northwest acts, Brauns partnered up with Larry Crane, an engineer who lent his hand in the past to Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney.

Review of Periphery
Seven Days, Burlington VT


Embellished with nice production touches such as plucked and staccato bowed strings and even a little choir, Laurel Brauns new CD, Periphery, nicely straddles the gap between emo and folk. For the most part, this is an acoustic singer-songwriter album with aspirations towards a tortured poetics of loss and strngth and rebirth. Brauns strong voice at times seems equal parts Ani DiFranco and Jewel, soaring and dipping and wringing emotion from even the clunkiest phrases. Though to be fair, clunky is the exception and not the rule here. The guitar playing is a clean combination of pick and strum that allows plenty of room for organ and mandolin to color the corners of a song like Cathedrals and to allow trumpet, piano and strings to do the same in a number like Backroads. Each song is basically an acoustic guitar and a voice and a few friends. A little heavy lyrically at times, the overall impression is of a thoughtfull, passionate and talented singer and songwriter.

Local Spotlight: Laurel Brauns
The New Hampshire, UNH Student Newspaper


"All the people you knew were the actors," sings Laurel Brauns during her rendition of Isaac Brock's (Modest Mouse) song "Bankrupt on Selling." This tune appears on Brauns' album "Periphery," her 2003 release on Red Trail Records. Brauns' intricately detailed album is a collection of sounds and tales that conjure feelings and images like a movie all about life. All the people you know- your friends, family, acquaintances, enemies- are the actors in this production. Brauns does a superb job of laying out the framework for a storyline that you can most definitely find yourself in, with lyrics so carefully chosen they read like a script.

"I love folk music. I grew up with my parents playing it around the house all the time," Brauns said in a recent interview. "However, I wanted to do more with the style beyond merely telling a story. I want the listener to be able to pick up on subtle, yet deliberate, pieces of evidence that suggest that there is something more to these songs, these stories. I try to create something a little more cinematic."

If anybody can pull this off, Brauns can. She's a well-traveled musician who has spent time on the East Coast (she was raised in Gilford, New Hampshire and now resides in Portsmouth) and the West Coast while she attended Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She attended the National University of Ireland and lived in a tent in Alaska while working and playing at a local pub to pay off the recording of "Periphery." All of these places were inspiration for her music. I love New Hampshire!" Brauns said. "There wasn't a whole lot going on up north in the Gilford area, so I would peruse around in the woods, which helped me develop a real love for the outdoors. I had a hard time finding out who I was and where I was headed, so I decided that it was time to move.

Of her experiences in Ireland, she said, "I stayed in Ireland for a year and got a good feel for Celtic culture and how they display emotion and story through music. I like to think that I display that same passion when I play out."

It's when Brauns hit the West Coast that she honed in on her individual style, learning from local musicians and eventually recording her album "Periphery" at Jackpot! Studios. The album was co-produced by Larry Crane, who has worked with Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney and The Decemberists.

The music and lyrics on "Periphery" are powerful, imaginative and thought provoking. The album has an indie-folk/celtic vibe. The song lyrics tell stories of every day life as well as delving into politics, like on the song "Backroads." Despite the overall folk-feel to the album, Brauns includes a sultry jazz tune called "Glass Shoes." Upon your first experience of listening to it, you'll become immediately infatuated with the lush finger picking at which Brauns excels. Brauns' unparalleled guitar playing, along with Erica McGee on violin and Anna Fritz on cello, creates some beautiful instrumentals that are only part of what makes this album incredible. The other integral piece to "Periphery" is Brauns' voice that projects the words that are so carefully crafted you are immediately drawn in and trapped in the frame Brauns has created for you. It's hard to describe exactly how the words grab you, but it's evident that they are full of passion.

The lyrics to the title track of the album ("I know your whole life story, chapters one through nine/ There'll be a quiz later to see if you read mine/ And they fail, they fail, they fail every time") suggest that the actors in Brauns' life have not been as good to her as they probably should've been. It's in lyrics like these that people can make connections, nod their head and claim, "I know where she's coming from." The ability to reach out and touch people is a reward that many musicians take to heart.

Brauns is no exception. The ideal show is when she can connect with one or two people in the audience and keep in contact with them afterwards. This would explain why she is so well received when she plays and why she has so many friends in the local industry, as well as a large fan base. In fact, upon being asked whom she would most like to play with (alive or dead) she simply smiled and claimed, "I've already played with them and will continue to do so whenever the chance arises," referring to her fans.

I highly suggest that you get out and check in on the "Hush Hush Sweet Harlot" music series that Brauns organizes and books every Monday night from 8-11p.m. at the Red Door in Portsmouth. This Monday, April 4, she'll be taking the stage herself with her band The Scarlet Letters with whom she'll be recording a new album this summer (slated for a fall release) and touring with along the East Coast. The band includes Travis Commeau and Todd Kramer of Mistaken for the Gifted and Jim Rudolf of Texas Governor. Brauns is also looking for competent string players and is open to inquiries from anybody interested here on campus. You can find out more information on Brauns, her music and how to get in touch with her at www.laurelbrauns.com.

Brauns moved to Bend with a third album in tow, "Closed for the Season." Recorded in a converted wood shop in New Hampshire, it's an excellent collection of songs that sound like Irish heritage crossed with a folkie's wandering spirit and steeped in Portland's independent-minded arts scene.

Top it off with Brauns' distinctive voice - strong, but with impressive texture - and you've got a unique sound. Imagine Portishead and Tori Amos dining with the Decemberists in a vegetarian cafe, and you've got the idea.

"I really like that mix of indie rock and folk," she said. "And that literary backbone that's very lyric driven."

It's remarkably appropriate that the cover of Bend-based singer-songwriter Laurel Brauns' latest album is black and white (mostly black). The cover photo is a moody, monochromatic shot of a wet-haired, shirtless young boy standing outdoors. He looks cold, and he's holding an earthworm awkwardly in the palms of his hands. You can't tell if it's dead or alive - only that the boy seems to harbor a solemn fascination for it.

The songs on Closed for the Season echo the mystery and the melancholy of the photo... mostly the later. In fact, Brauns' words and music push a would-be "folksy" sound deep into a strange, enthralling realm of Old-Worldly organic gothic.

The sun goes down early with the second song, "Roisin Dubh." Shuffling drums and echoing electric guitar mate with Brauns' ringing/trilling/moaning vocals to color the super-sad, super-creepy baby murderer's lament. "The lake was a mirror for the beauty she breathed / but her sunlight was stolen as she slid beneath," goes one line from the gut-wrenching lyric.

Things aren't always quite so morbid, thankfully. The strings and piano-bathed "Dear Cinderella" stops short of infanticide, content in its ultra-loneliness as a poignant, highly poetic anthem for the brokenhearted.

Brauns' rootsy gothic adventure continues in various shadowy shades throughout the album, hitting a brief crescendo with a 19th-century prostitute's dark musings on "Strawbery Banke" and "Mannequin" - a creepy tune about a woman dressing up a dummy in place of her lover.

Closed for the Season has its flaws - Brauns ' lilting vocals are derivative of popular (if super-talented) songstresses like Alanis Morissette and others. And, it's just not that easy to swallow an hour of almost nothing but deep, dark, painful longing and unrequited love.

Still, Brauns' cloudy, yet bell-clear lyrical imagery, and subtly brilliant arrangements make for a well-built album overall. You can bet she's got the chops of earthy love-pop, nostalgic Great Basin ballads, Celtic busks, and even drinking songs for the ages (see "Shane McGowan") plus anything else she puts her mind and pen to. In the meantime, turn down your mood lighting, done some black wool, and dig in.

PAST NEWS ENTRIES

The Sweet Harlots -
November 28, 2008

I moved to Oregon last fall and started an all girrrrl band called the Sweet Harlots. The name comes from a "comic" book cover that is part of the wall paper at "The Friendly Toast" in Portsmouth, NH. Hush Hush Sweet Harlot was also the name of the quiet rock series I ran at the Red Door for two years. The the series was originally named by Sidney Alexis, who I now have to thank for the name of my band.

Our sound straddles The Be Good Tanyas and Iron & Wine. Most of our gigs have been in Bend, Oregon and there is a lot of support for alternative americana here. Julie and I did a short tour back east in September.

I am learning Pro Tools this winter and writing a new album to be mixed by Franchot Tone of the Culver City Dub Collective. He just moved to Bend last spring.

This winter the group will be focusing on rehersals to get ready for a full summer of gigs....

I've recorded a few covers over the last year and recently posted them. They include the Irish trad song "Black is the Colour" for which I changed some words around. Also "Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, and "In my Place" by Coldplay.

Happy listening!

After playing as a duo with Julie Southwell for six months, the Sweet Harlots now includes another singer, Esther Kang, and a cellist Amy Mitchell.


Boy with a Worm? -
February 8, 2007

The cover photo on "Closed for the Season" of a young boy holding a worm was taken by Dan Biferie and the rest of the photos were taken by Azure Ray's photographer Tony Bonacci who is based in Omaha.


Press release for "Closed for the Season" -
February 5, 2007

Thematically, there is a strong sense of place that ties the songs together. The title "Closed for the Season" references the extreme contrast between glorious summers and cozy winters in New England, but there is also and spiritual redemption implied in physical experience of appreciating the outdoors. "I think New Hampshire is the most beautiful state; the landscape is haunting and vibrant and constantly changing. I'm definitely an earth-worshipper, not in a witches-dancing-around-the-fire sense, but in the way that being close to nature is like going to church for me," Brauns says.

Internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter, Jon Nolan produced and engineered the album in an old converted carpenter's shop with no running water and slanted floors in Newmarket, NH. "There was no bathroom so we had to make a lot of trips down to Crackskulls Coffee and Books due to the amount of water I was drinking," Brauns says of the experience. The rest of the album's credits read like a who's who of the Seacoast music scene. Andy Happel (Thanks to Gravity) wrote and performed violin arrangements and Kristen Miller (Jam Magazine's Female Songwriter of the Year 2005) played cello. Nate Horton of Amigo Bianco played cello and drums on several tracks. Marc McElroy (Elroy) played bass, organ, melodica and engineered three songs. Steve Ruhm of Groove Child was called upon to playdrums for the rest of the album, and Guy Capecelatro III wrote and performed bass arrangements. Derek Archambault of The Minus Scale provided backing vocals, and David Goolkasian of The Texas Governor created the graphic design.


"Closed for the Season" released!! -
February 1, 2007

My third full-length studio album will be released on February 9th, featuring twelve literate folk songs about sailors, mannequins, drunks, unborn babies and filmmakers.

This record has been a year and a half in the making. The majority of it was recorded in an old carpenter's shack in Newmarket, NH under the direction of internationally acclaimed songwriter Jon Nolan.

Chris Dahlen of Pitchforkmedia.com and Paste Magazine writes, "Laurel Brauns can do the siren singer-songwriter thing, casting her sterling voice into songs about wide skies and maze-like hearts. She brings to bear all of her Celtic and indie influences on her haunting new album where cellos and dark finger-picked acoustic guitar all but surround you with the ghosts of the by-gone characters the songs speak of."


Greg Brown -
December 8, 2006

I'll be opening for Greg Brown!!! as part of the New Hampshire Folk Festival on April 28th, joined by my dear friends and band mates Guy Capecelatro III and Chris Greiner.


Matt Costa -
December 8, 2006

I opened for Matt Costa at Higher Ground in Burlington, VT last night. Matt is one of the new additions to Jack Johnson's label Brushfire Records and he sings upbeat retro-folk with a gorgeous voice, catchy melodies and intricate acoustic guitar. His five-piece band played an uplifting and inspiring show. These sweet boys from California had us laughing and singing long into the night. Check them out next time he comes through your town.


NEMO -
September 15, 2006

I was accepted at The NEMO Festival in Boston this year. I'll be at Club Passim on Sept. 29th @ 8pm.


Wood Brothers -
September 7, 2006

I ended up opening up for The Wood Brothers tonight at The Stone Church very much thanks to Peter Hamlin. They were so amazing!


Freedom Rocks Festival -
July 1, 2006

Come celebrate the illusion of freedom at The Freedom Rocks Festival at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, NH on July 3rd. Stop thinking about bombs and invasions and enjoy a lovely day listening to music on the harbor. Full-band show with Guy Capecelatro III and Chris Greiner. I'm thrilled to be sharing the stage with my friends The Minus Scale, The Texas Governor, Dan Blakeslee and Jason Anderson.


Club Passim -
May 26, 2006

I'll be playing at Club Passim as part of The Campfire Festival. This Cambridge mainstay has launched the careers of Josh Ritter and Dar Williams among others, but best part is the vegetarian cafe!


Patty Larkin -
May 8, 2006

Thanks so much to Patty Larkin and the kind folks at The Music Hall for the opportunity to open the show last week. That is twice in once month performing at my favorite theater! (The other was for the Spotlight Awards.)
Spotlight Awards -
March 23, 2006

I was recently nominated for best singer/songwriter in the Portsmouth area along with my good friends Jon Nolan and Dan Blakeslee. Take a minute to vote at the Portsmouth Herald!


RPM Challenge -
March 15, 2006

I’m very happy to have completed the RPM Challenge 2006. The songs themselves are posted here http://www.rpmchallenge.com/rpm_player.html?band=Laurel_Brauns . This project was the brainchild of Jon Nolan and the wonderfully supportive folks at the Wire.


Tony Bonnaci -
October 23, 2005

Tony Bonnaci and his lovely girl friend Ally just flew in to Portsmouth from Omaha this weekend to take some new press photos and an album cover. We played around at the Strawbery Banke museum, the Children's Museam and at the Red Door with Nate and Kokko. Tony has done photos for Azure Ray and recently shot the new Faint video. Check out his website here, www.tonybonnaci.com/...


NACA West Showcase -
August 4, 2005

Was chosen as an alternate for the NACA West Showcase in Portland, OR for this October, thanks so much to Michael Winters for making a really excellent video.


NHPR -
July 18, 2005

Had two great shows on NHPR this month. The first was on Kate McNally's 'The Folk Show' and the second was on a program called 'The Front Porch,' that has NH authors, artists etc. Listen to it here http://www.nhpr.org/view_content/9213/
Pitchfork -
May 31, 2005

The Hush Hush Sweet Harlot series made the front page of Pitchfork last week. In many circles this online magazine is considered THE indie-rock athority, so this was pretty flattering, thank you Chris Dahlen.


Grace Potter -
May 29, 2005

I have two great last minute added shows this week. Friday, June 3rd at the Stone Church opening for Grace Potter. And Sunday, June 5th at PA's Lounge in Somerville with two of my favorites: Chris Moore and Milo Jones.


Palace Theater, Manchester -
May 15, 2005

This summer we have shows at the Palace Theater in Manchester, the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, the Firehouse in Newburyport and the Lebanon Opera House all in conjunction with the indie film Dangerous Crosswinds, produced by Bill Millios. I have four songs on the sound track and I'm opening up the screenings. Please see the tour section for details.


Moscow, Idaho -
April 20, 2005

Hello from Moscow, Idaho. (pronounced mos - coh...) Travis and I are having fun on our three week tour of the Pacific Northwest, they like us here, I think. Really great shows in Portland, Oregon at Lewis and Clark College and the Red and Black Cafe on Division. Thanks to John Weinland for co-billing with us at LC and to Justin Wescoat Sanders for the excellent write up in the Portland Mercury. Had a nice little house concert in Eugene at Jonas Lerman's and David of Testface was kind enough to drop in and play some tunes off his new record. Headed to Boise, Bend and Bozeman in a few days....


@ UNH with Matt Pond PA -
March 24, 2005

Just got a last minute date opening for Matt Pond PA at the University of New Hampshire, Stafford Room on Friday, March 25th. $5, doors 6:30.


North 93 -
February 15, 2005

Have started working on some collaborations here in Portsmouth. Jarid of Unbunny is going to be producing the song North 93 which was inspired by the Matt Pond PA song New Hampshire. The recording will be used for the opening credits of the movie Dangerous Crosswinds which will be screened this summer. I've also started a duo with David of Texas Governor, we'll play a few songs before his Red Door show on the 28th. Travis Commeau of Mistaken for the Gifted has been playing bass with me for months now and will be joining me for a three week tour of the Pacific Northwest in April.


Hush Hush Sweet Harlot -
January 1, 2005

I'm running a Monday Night Music series here in Portsmouth at the Red Door... our first month had two sold out shows. Some highlights from this coming month are the Castanets from San Diego and Ponies in the Surf on the 21st and Choo Choo La Rouge on March 7th. Info write reddoorbooking(at)yahoo(dot)com


Matt Pond PA -
December 1, 2004

I'm opening for two of my favorite bands ever at the Stone Church on December 8th: Matt Pond PA and The Hotel Alexis. Matt is originally from Canaan, NH and has lots of beautiful songs about growing up in the Granite State.