Laura Veirs’ seventh album July Flame, which Colin Meloy calls “the best album of 2010,” explores the emotion of mid-summer. Drenched in wood smoke, sunlight, pollinators, pastoral dales, fireworks and warm nights, her lyrics explore the dichotomy between one’s desire for permanence and security and the realization that such things rarely exist. Nowhere on the album is this inherent tension more crystallized than on the title track.
On a day in late July 2008, when the sun was hot enough to melt the skin, Veirs and a friend stumbled upon a booth at the Portland, Ore. farmer’s market selling July Flame peaches. Veirs so liked the name that she suggested she and her friend each write a song with that title. They bought a bunch of peaches and canned them in their bathing suits on the hottest day that summer.
The peaches, spiked with cloves and drenched in syrup, turned out great, and the song is one of Veirs’ best ever.
“I’d been in a songwriting slump at that time and writing that song pushed me over my plateau and into a new place where I was surprising myself again. I invented oddball tunings so I was really using my ear to search out new-sounding melodies and patterns,” says Veirs. “I wrote this album from a searching, soulful place. I hope it elicits a real gut feeling.”
Composed mostly on her “crappy nylon-string guitar,” (though also on her Les Paul electric guitar, banjo and piano), in the barn behind her house in Portland, Ore., July Flame is a relatively stripped-down folk record highlighting Veirs’ masterful finger picking guitar and confident vocals. “Laura’s like the queen bee and my ear is her hive; she nests and makes honey in the hairs of my cochlea,” says Jim James of My Morning Jacket (who sings on several tracks).
The album breaks from Veirs’ previous full-band efforts, although many of the same players make appearances on the album, including longtime collaborators Karl Blau and Steve Moore. String arrangements are featured more on this album than on others; the brilliant improviser Eyvind Kang plays viola on many songs, and legendary arranger Stephen Barber composed hauntingly beautiful string quartet arrangements for three songs.
July Flame is the sixth album that Laura and producer Tucker Martine have made together. Recorded and mixed at their home, the songwriting, arrangements, production and performances create a fully realized piece of art that inspires reflection and calm in a world that spins unsteady.