Laura Veirs: July Flame, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Laura Veirs: July Flame, in "Nothing Not New"
Artist: Laura Veirs
Title: July Flame
Release date: January 12, 2010
Label: Raven Marching Band

I've seen more than one review of Laura Veirs' new CD, July Flame, in which Veirs is compared to Neko Case, another singer-songwriter from the Pacific Northwest with roots in the nebulous sub-genre "Americana." As a longtime fan of Case's work, I don't hear a lot of similarities between the music of these two women. For one thing, Veirs' pretty voice is pleasant and her melodies are strong, but neither carry the same emotional weight of Case's. And more important, Case's music is clearly more based in rock 'n' roll. Veirs is much more a folkie than a rocker.

All that being said, Veirs' July Flame stands on its own as a fine document. It's a great guitar record, too, with lots of fingerpicking, some tasteful pedal steel, and nice use of banjo, too. On a few occasions in this mostly acoustic record, piano and string arrangements bring the songs to life. Veirs effectively channels Leonard Cohen on the lead track, "I Can See Your Tracks," one of the better songs here; Harvest-era Neil Young on "Sun Is King"; and early Suzanne Vega on "Wide-Eyed, Legless." To my ears, she's also heavily influenced by Simon and Garfunkel. 

There are a handful of dream-like, minor-key songs, like "Sleeper in the Valley," in which Veirs' melodies become overshadowed by music. There's also "Carol Kaye," a nice, straight-forward Simon & Garfunkel-esque tribute to the session music who became famous as a bass player in Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew. It brings to mind Uncle Tupelo's "Acuff-Rose," in spirit and message. In it, Veirs sings: "She's not a household name / But she's in your head all day." Nicely put.

If you like any of the aforementioned artists, there's a decent chance you'd dig Laura Veirs. The record's been out for a week already. If you've heard it, let me and other "Nothing Not New" followers know what you think, in the comments section below.

Best track: "Summer Is the Champion," the most radio-ready track here, features a great horn arrangement that comes out of nowhere.
Rotation: Medium-heavy. The strongest handful of songs on July Flame are among the best songs I've heard in the first three weeks of "Nothing Not New." 
Deja Vu: Suzanne Vega's self-titled debut.
I'd rather listen to: Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Grade: B+

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