New Chal­lenge

Exclaim! - - REVIEWS - Laura Veirs SARAH GREENE

The Look­out

The Look­out is Laura Veirs’ tenth al­bum, and first to fol­low her 2016 col­lab­o­ra­tion with Neko Case and k.d. lang, case/lang/veirs; on it, the pro­lific and fan­tas­tic singer-song­writer chal­lenges her­self to find new ways to write mu­sic — she wrote 117 songs, which she whit­tled down to 12 — like us­ing an ex­cerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as a jump­ing-off point for al­bum opener “Mar­garet Sands.” But though her process can be highly tech­ni­cal, Veirs re­mains deeply psy­cho­log­i­cal and in­tu­itive in her songs, draw­ing from a well of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and con­crete na­ture-based im­agery to paint an over­all picture of the fragility of these times. Veirs is joined on The Look­out by Karl Blau, whom she’s known for nearly 20 years; Jim James, who sings har­mony on Grate­ful Dead cover “Moun­tains of the Moon”; and Suf­jan Stevens, who lends co-lead re­sponse vo­cals on “Watch Fire,” pro­vid­ing a balm to the ten­sion of Veirs’ words. It’s pro­duced, like all of Veirs’ al­bums, by her hus­band Tucker Mar­tine, who con­trib­utes the rhyth­mic feel, which this time flirts with the elec­tronic. Veirs en­lists her kids (and their cousin) to sing Ram- like backup vo­cals on “Light­ning Rod,” which is full of won­der at the power of light­ning. Like the camp­fires peo­ple gather around through­out the record, The Look­out is meant to of­fer com­fort, which it does. (Bella Union)

What was your writ­ing process?

I wrote four hours a day, four days a week for a year. To­ward the end was when most of the good ones were sur­fac­ing. I made song­writ­ing sur­prise cards for my­self ahead of time. I would pick three cards (for mood, lyri­cal theme and mu­si­cal theme) and I would have to do what the cards said to do. The rea­son I did that was to trick my­self into feel­ing sur­prised, forc­ing my­self to try some­thing new. There were as­pects of it that were su­per-an­noy­ing, but it forced me to be dis­ci­plined and do the work.

Na­ture shows up a lot in your songs.

It’s ev­ery­where. Cherry trees are bloom­ing. I love how those im­ages are free and avail­able to any­one. Even some­one liv­ing in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment can ex­pe­ri­ence the beauty of light com­ing in a win­dow or snow on a tree branch. Every­one thinks I live in the woods or some­thing, but no, I live a cou­ple blocks from a cof­fee shop.

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