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Laura Gibson
La Grande
January 24, 2012
Laura Gibson Music

Folk sweetheart Laura Gibson is the type of artist that requires you to listen closely. It’s not that her lyrics are cryptic or enigmatic. It’s just easy for her soft voice to get lost among the instruments of a song. In a live setting, her voice stands little chance against the clamor of an audience. Yet, those who take the time to scoot themselves a little closer immediately realize that this gentle voice is not something to be taken lightly.

Gibson hails from Oregon, a state that is notoriously famous for its uncanny ability to foster homespun folk bands. Despite this, she is anything but dismissible or mass produced. Her first three albums brought with them intimate, almost vulnerable atmospheres. A misty voice coupled with the muted mellow riffs of a nylon string guitar eventually became the identifying formula associated with Gibson. It was no wonder that while making this album Gibson set out to “err on the side of confidence.”

The album kicks off with the rushing sound of the title track, “La Grande.”  It’s exciting, expansive, and spooky all at once, like a fast-moving train heading into the unknown of a tunnel. Gibson’s signature misty voice sounds heavier, more confident. The guitars are a little janglier and the drums more prominent. “This Fire,” the album’s other fasted paced track, is a full fledged country dance song. The lack of a slide guitar makes “This Fire” feel more upbeat than “La Grande,” but these two are noticeable departures from the softness typically associated with Gibson.

La Grande isn’t all rapid beats and howling slide guitars, though. “Feather Lungs,” “Milk Heavy, Pollen Eyed,” and “Crow/ Swallow” are tracks that conserve Gibson’s well known tenderness. These tracks are more guitar/voice oriented. Like her previous albums, they focus on Gibson’s voice and its ability to cleanly tell a story. They do, however, have more layers. An added piano line or a more noticeable base riff make these simple tracks complex enough that they feel cohesive along side the faster paced tracks.

On the other hand, “Skin, Warming Skin” is one track that attempts to reconcile Gibson’s signature meekness with her newfound confidence. A simple song that swells and fills the listener, it’s almost cavernous but never so big or loud that it becomes distant. “Time is Not” follows a similar suit but its high point are its lyrics rather than the overall expansion.

One draw back to this adventurous endeavor is that in certain songs Gibson overemphasizes her voice. Parts of “Red Moon” and “Skin, Warming Skin” could benefit from Gibson pulling back just a bit. Her voice isn't weak but trying to add a long resonance to every other word make it difficult to understand her lyrics. With lines like, “If salvation never takes our hand/ we’ll dance around the wreckage,” Gibson’s poetry is definitely something that should be pushed to the forefront.

La Grande is indeed more adventurous and confident than anything Gibson has produced so far. Though it does not necessarily break new ground it’s still an outward expansion for her as an artist. I doubt it will become her magnum opus but I do feel that with this album Gibson is figuring out how to orient herself to head in that direction.

Favorite Tracks: “The Fire” “Skin, Warming Skin” “Time is Not”

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Reviewer Bio - Ana Diaz is part of the editorial team at Onlinerock.

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