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House of Snow
Twelve dreamy folk songs combining neo-classical, organic gothic and earth pop. Listening to this album is like a journey floating down the river and out to sea.
"House of Snow" was produced and arranged by Douglas Jenkins, and recorded in his wife's nursery school in Portland, Oregon. Jenkins is the creative director of the Portland Cello Project "House of Snow" features many of Portland’s finest musicians including Sam Cooper (Horse Feathers), Skip vonKuske (Vagabond Opera), and Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists.)
After listening to the album, Chris Dahlen of Pitchfork and Paste Magazine wrote, “Laurel Brauns writes some of my favorite songs, and the way she sings them makes me shiver. Her new disc is lovely, strong, and haunted, and likely her best yet.”
The album is best classified as indie-folk with elements of neo-classical, organic gothic and earth pop. Water emerges as the most prevalent theme weaving the songs together. The title track House of Snow is a dreamy tale about a float down the Rogue River in Oregon. Doldrums is a depiction of the Great North Pacific Gyre, a swirling patch of plastic suspended in the Pacific Ocean.
Local Bend, Oregon musicians Erin Cole-Baker, Mark Ransom, Patrick Pearsall and Laurel’s sister Katie Brauns lend their voices to the song Doldrums which ends in a chorus crescendo, and guitarist and singer/songwriter Franchot Tone adds his jangly pop style to the last two tracks on the album.
The biggest local contributor was silent however. Kaycee Anseth is the visual artist who was commissioned to do the front cover, and was so inspired by Laurel’s demo of songs, that she created the back cover as well.
Laurel has opened for Loch Lomond, Horse Feathers, and Weinland and collaborated with the Portland Cello Project. She recently had her song North 93 placed in the Fox TV series Traffic Light.
Nostalgic ballads about coming of age in rural New England & traveling in Ireland, produced with arrangements of Irish traditional instruments, drum-set and bass.
Laurel's voice is the most distinctive part of her first full-length album, entitled Swimming. At times it is aerial like Dar Williams with Irish inflections - other times it is smoky and rough around the edges. The subject matter is equally diverse, combining coming of age ballads set in New England and Ireland with memorable images and metaphors. The tone ranges from nostalgic: with melancholy arrangements of fiddles and uillean pipes, to upbeat and angsty, with drum-set and male vocal harmonies.
Swimming showcases the best of five years of singing/songwriting by Laurel, and eight months of rehearsals and recording in basements and living rooms in Portland, Oregon. The album was recorded independently with friend and engineer Dave Casey and, as a result of the extra time spent in the studio, it is professional while still maintaining the raw emotion of a debut. Laurel talks about her inspiration: "I grew up in a little town in New Hampshire just south of the Appalachians, population 7,000, and most of those years were spent skidding around in pick-up trucks, drinking Schlitz Tall-boys, kind of going crazy from wanting something. 'Apathy Drenched in Alcohol' was a really bad poem I wrote in high school. It's ironic because most of the stories on this album are either a longing for that ruralism that I was trying so hard to escape, or else just stories about figuring out where home is..."
Laurel is a storyteller. Her honesty is refreshing and her vulnerability is endearing. Her live show combines the folk-rock material of her more recent project, the coffeehouse style of her first album with a few Irish drinking songs thrown in. "I'm confident enough to be a little more controversial now, to stir things up a bit by addressing political and sexual topics more head-on... My audience can identify wih a challenge to our sugar-coated culture." Laurel has recently performed at the Northwest Music Festival as well as a number of bars and coffee houses in the Portland, Oregon area. After recording a second album, Laurel will be touring the New England college circuit in the fall.
"Elegantly arranged modern folk-pop with a dash of 70's songwriters influence, laurel's second album is collection of stories-in-song laced with georgeous layers of violin and cello." - jeff saltzman
From years of busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland, to entertaining skiers in the lodges of New England, to playing at some of Boston's loudest bars, Laurel Brauns has learned the art of silencing a crowd. Performing Songwriter called Laurel's voice "heavenly and haunted . . . like a ghost off the moors" and heralded it as "an arresting, powerful force" (April 2003). Laurel's first album, Swimming, was recorded in 2001 in the basement of her college music building and, over the course of the next year and a half, sold nearly 2,000 copies and received national media attention. The fourth track, a story-song about a retired coast guard Laurel met outside a bus station in Salt Lake City, won Best Celtic Song at the Just Plain Folks Awards for its strong balladry and ghostly Irish arrangements of uilleann pipes, fiddle, and pennywhistle.
On her new album, Periphery, Laurel established her own record label, Red Trail Records, and choose to record in Jackpot!, one of Portland's most renowned independent studios and home to legendary engineer Larry Crane (Elliot Smith, Sleater-Kinney). Besides his engineering duties on Periphery, Crane also agreed to co-produce the album with Laurel. Their partnership turned out to be highly gratifying. Crane says of the project, "I have worked with many run-of-the-mill songwriters, and Laurel Brauns is not one of them. Her intricate guitar playing, thoughtful and passionate lyrics, and clear voice were a treat to record." Making Periphery wasn't cheap, however, so in the summer of 2003 Laurel took a job in Alaska to work off the debt she had amassed. "Pretty much I lived in a tent to pay off this album," she says, and it's the truth: she spent three months in Denali National Park, working at a restaurant by day and playing songs for visitors by night.
Periphery's lush arrangements of strings, piano, drums and bass can be attributed to Laurel's new band, Queen Anne's Lace, which formed for the express purpose of recording the album and playing gigs around the Portland area. Periphery's full band sound and unconventional stories mark a step a way from straightforward folk. Laurel says her approach to songwriting has changed substantially in the last few years: "Now I'm less willing to feel sorry for myself or be self-righteous," she says. "Most of these new songs are left unsettled and unresolved. They emphasize the gray areas and leave room for possibility."
At the center of the new album, both thematically and schematically, is "Backroads," perhaps Laurel's most political song to date. Written partially as a response to 9/11 and the ensuing so-called War on Terror, "Backroads" blends the personal and political so adroitly that it's hard to tell the difference between the two. Ostensibly it is the story of a cross-country car trip that Laurel made in 2002. But the song's scope broadens gradually as it moves along, like a movie camera zooming out, panning across the ravaged modern American landscape. "Backroads" becomes, ultimately, a new kind of National Anthem, a radical "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-all of us who find ourselves on the periphery of this "kingdom of highways, strip malls, and SUVs."In the song's chorus, Laurel promises, "I'll take the backroads, I'll take the backroads," repeating the line again and again and asking finally, pleadingly, "Will you meet me there?" It is one of Periphery's most hopeful and rousing moments. Amid so much longing, loss, and emotional starkness, the plea that Laurel Brauns makes for a new kind of community and a new definition of patriotism feels especially moving-and, these days desperately needed.