Late last year, I wrote about the Decemberists and noted that I wasn't terribly impressed with their opening act, Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames. I'm prepared to eat my words, especially after doing a little more research on the group as I've listened to Veir's latest album: July Flame.
Here I said she sounded like a newer musician, I couldn't have been more wrong - July Flame is her seventh album, with a music career beginning back in 1999, and also has worked closely with the Decemberists, contributing to their fantastic album The Crane Wife, on the track Yankee Bayonett (I Will Be Home Soon). It comes as no surprise then, that Colin Meloy has come out to announce that this is the best album of 2010.
July Flame is an interesting, but solid album all around. It took a couple of listens to get adjusted to Veirs, but this album soars with excellent lyrics and some very rich background work by the instruments supporting her. What we get is a wispy, elegant effort from a singer/songwriter. Some songs, such as the opening song I Can See Your Tracks, are essentially just a girl and her guitar, along with some Bon Iveresque background lyrics. The title track, July Flame, brings a deeper sound - rather than the girl and her guitar, it feels like Veirs is surrounded by the bass, drunks and electric guitar here, with her lyrics just punching out through the sound.
The rest of the album shifts between these two mentalities somewhat, giving the album a sound that is not necessarily predictable, but shifting. It's far from boring, and provides for quite a few listens to fully take in all the small facets of her sound. In particular, I I've grown to absolutely love Life Is Good Blues, particularly because the sound is so mixed, from singer/songwriter guitar to some chilling background vocals. There are points, such as in the song Make Something Good, where Veirs lets the instruments take over, for a really beautiful piece.
While the album is overall very strong, there's a number of points where I felt that Veirs just needs to be supported by something stronger - her voice is fairly high, elegant, but there are a couple songs, such as When You Give Your Heart, where the addition of bass and background vocals could have been used. For the most part, Veirs is able to avoid any larger trouble by putting these sorts of things in, but in a larger sense, it's hard to think of this album as a solo album, simply because the background work is so essential here. With that in mind, however, July Flame is a superior album - it's well organized, with an incredible sound and feel.