Laura Gibson – La Grande

January 01, 1970



Laura Gibson has a voice that flutters and trembles, hopping
octave-length intervals weightlessly like a bird jumping from a low branch to a
higher one. There’s cranked Victrola aura of old-time-i-ness around her vocals,
sometimes accentuated with static, which makes her sound like an old radio
transmission, crossing not just space but time. And, yet, though there’s much
of the past in these pretty, warmly arranged introspections, there’s also a
strong thread of determination. Gibson wants to know that she is the lion, not
the lamb, the crow and not the swallow. As lovely, as delicate, as seemingly
vulnerable to the slightest breeze as she is, Gibson has reservoirs of strength
and clarity.


Laura Gibson is a Portland-based singer songwriter, who has
worked with a wide array of neighboring artists – big indie stars like the
Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, sound-sculpting
experimenters like Ethan Rose, and strong minded, stubbornly uncategorizeable
females like Laura Veirs. Here she brings in a number of other artists to
support her – you can hear everything from traditional rock instruments to
oboe, trombone, timpani and pedal steel on these tracks – in arrangements that
seem slighter and sparser than they are. That oboe you hear in “Crow/Swallow”
has surely wandered in through an open window. The plaintive pedal steel in “Skin,
Warming Skin” arrived, perhaps, via country radio. Songs are carefully arranged
without seeming premeditated. It all feels entirely natural.


One of Gibson’s greatest allies in this endeavor is herself.
She often sings in two, three, four, or even half a dozen voices overdubbed on top of each other. Her main voice has shades
of Karen Dalton and Billie Holiday, though higher and more fluttery. She gives,
for instance, the principle melody of “Skin, Warming Skin” a sleepy,
clarinet-like tone, grounded and full of body, expanding syllables over
multiple, slithering, sliding notes. Yet as the piece gains momentum, she
enters in again, in an entirely different voice, higher, breezier, almost
whistling with exuberance, as she keens “oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh” over the top. In
“The Rushing Dark” her voice is multiplied into a gospel choir. For “Feather
Lungs,” she doubles and triples herself into a 1940s radio chorus.


There is a fair amount of traditional folk and country in
Gibson’s songwriting, but she ventures just as successfully into another couple
of directions. For opener “La Grande” (and later in “The Fire”) rattling,
galloping beats carry songs out of folk and very close to rock territory. “Lion/Lamb”
(and again “Red Moon” pursue syncopated, Latin rhythms, the first a muted
samba, the second more like a tango, though softened and sweetened by country


This is a wonderful, subtle album, whose songs seem simple
at first, but open up and grow more interesting on repeated listens. Delicacy
and fragility hides a wiry strength here, and if Gibson’s voice trembles, it is
with a fullness of feeling and a sureness of her own ability – and not with
fear at all. 


Grande” “Skin, Warming Skin” JENNIFER

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