Laura Veirs' new album The Lookout begins with Margret Sands, a track that would fit in perfectly on any of her records from the last 14 years or so. The soft acoustic strumming and harmony vocals that sound as if they were recorded in a beautifully acoustically treated cave, are part of the style that Veirs and her longtime collaborator and husband Tucker Martine have honed to perfection. It’s a sound that has come to feel familiar over time, but due to Veirs’ ability as a songwriter never feels tired or overplayed.
It's partly because fans of Veirs are so familiar with her signature sound that the second track seems like
such a departure. Everybody Needs You has a more electronic sound to it
than almost anything Veirs has done before. Programmed drum samples and delayed
vocals give this song an airy feel, quite different from the grounded acoustic
guitar of the record’s opener. Though not so different as to be jarring, the
track is a pleasant change of style and paves the way for the following song Seven
Falls to open with a synthesiser, before heading back to more familiar
Generally Grateful Dead covers
rarely manage to live up to the originals, Veirs makes a rare exception with
her take on Mountains of The Moon from The Dead’s 1969 album Aoxomoxoa.
Shedding the odd, faux medieval tone of the Dead’s recording, Veirs’ version is
wonderfully hazy and peppered with country music influences. It’s an approach
that pays tribute to the Grateful Dead by incorporating elements of their wide
ranging sound, while simultaneously diverging significantly from their version
of the song.
Track titles like The Meadow,
Heavy Petals and Margret Sands hint at a preoccupation with
nature and as Veirs herself puts it “the need to pay attention to the fleeting
beauty of life and to not be complacent”. The Canyon, a song about the
loss of a loved one, encapsulates this sentiment perfectly. Lines like “I’m
here now but my time will come / to be blowing through the canyon” demonstrating
Veirs’ ability to take comfort in the natural order of things.
The Lookout feels like a deep breath midway through
a stressful day. Meant to calm the listener (and the writer as well I think),
it’s Veirs’ reaction to the fear and instability of living in Trump’s America.
But whilst the sound of the album is as tuneful and easy on the ears as Veirs’
previous work, the tension and worry is audible under the surface. Lines like
“I can't read these people / I can't read their eyes” from the album’s title
track, betray the unrest under the music’s comforting placidity. It’s not an
album of certainties or solutions by any means, though it is in its own way a
hopeful album. Veirs makes sure to take stock of the thing’s she’s thankful for
and with lyrics like “Gather the children / And hold them close / And teach of
love / And peace devout / When it grows darkest / The stars come out” it’s
clear she sees some light in the distance.