Friday, August 22, 2014

REVIEW: Laura Jean - Laura Jean

On her self-titled fifth album, Melbourne-based Laura Jean supports her formidable vocal instrument with a notably sharp set of songs.  With a couple of exceptions, including the delightful "Don't Marry The One You Love", the arrangements are sparse, allowing full attention to be drawn to Laura Jean's performance, the quality of the material, and the delightfully backing vocals from Norway's Jenny Hval.  The material leans to the intimate, but is decidedly not claustrophobic.  The effect is that of a close friend reading aloud from her journals, and thereby sharing her observations, memories, insecurities, and short stories, as well as dispensing advice.  In addition to a satisfying thematic range, the artist varies her delivery along a broad range in these ten tracks.  "Don't Marry The One You Love", which is one of my favorites of the set, reveals excellent pop chops to deliver a rather unexpected message regarding romantic attachments.  On two other standout tracks, "Here Comes the Miner" and When I First Brought Him Home", Laura Jean displays old English folk stylings and a touch of southern Gothic, respectively.

Lead-off track "June" walks the line between pop and folk, with an upbeat melody but a haunting vibe, and contains some of the best vocal interplay between Laura Jean and Hval on the album.  "How Will I Know When I'm Home" is a moody, dreamy track with simple piano accompaniment.  The lovely "First Love Song" understandably was chosen as one of the single released in advance of the album.  Stream it below and experience the exquisite phrasing and quite emotional weight of that track and the following "Sister All I Have Are My Arms".  A songwriter this good, deserves a top flight vocalist, and a vocalist this good deserves first class material.  Fortunately, Laura Jean has found herself.

I recommend this album for late at night with your headphones on.  Be warned that the headphones may have formed dents in your head by the time you remove them.

Laura Jean was recorded in Bristol, UK, by long-time PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish.  It is available in digital, vinyl and compact disc formats via Chapter Music.

Chapter Music

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