Isolated and cold, Christmas lights the only illumination to be had, my snowy street appears barren. Except for those tracks. The sign that someone has been here before and traveled safely. It’s a sobering feeling to see the tracks of footprints delicately stamped into the tides of wintry precipitation. As I walk to the bus stop– on the way to see my friends for a good night of drinking and fun– I know this dark, cold and lonely walk will be the low point of my evening. Those footprints guide; I follow the path, pressing my foot inside the imprints. Enveloping, humble. This is the kind of sentiment “I Can See Your Tracks” pervades as the opening track to Laura Veirs’ gorgeous new album July Flame. The lonely voice propped up so subtly by the echoing background harmony that seems to grow out of the darkest abyss. This is one of those albums that you listen to alone, the type of album that despite its lonely, atmospheric approach, breathes a sense of warmth that just makes you feel happy.
In all apologies to Ezra Pound, you don’t have to necessarily make it new to make it good. You’ve certainly heard this album before, in different permutations from different artists– this is not the most original album. The violins and pianos croon in all the right spots on “Where Are You Driving” just as you might expect. But goddamn if it isn’t pretty and endearing. Essentially this is an album of circumstance, and depending on said circumstance, you will either love this or find it merely mediocre. As I sit here on this snowy night, waiting for my time to leave for the bus, this hits perfectly. A lull before the storm of typical ‘bar’ music blasted through speakers cranked way too loud. The solitude of the album works wonderfully well at this moment; her lovely voice croons to draw me in on “Little Deschutes” and “Summer Is the Champion” has just the right amount of pep to pick me up for my walk. The album just seems tailor-made for this very moment in time. And that unfortunately, also works as the crux of the album.
At times it just comes off as too clean cut, too well orchestrated. The atmosphere so wonderfully created on the opening track seems to dissipate as the album wears on. It hints back to this lovely feeling with the gentle fingerpicking of “When You Give Your Heart”, lyrics radiating optimism with lines such as, “this is my song for you / the spring comes bubbling throguh,” every so often, to the better. It’s in these moments of introspective solitude that the album truly shines. When things go a little bit larger they tend to veer into the ‘been there done that’ territory. The staccato strings of “Wide-Eyed, Legless” are one such example of a sort of glacial perfectness about the album that works to its detriment. But the album balances on a tightrope between the two extremes. Glossy perfection and honesty. That’s what this album struggles between, and when it sticks with honesty it works far better. Fortunately for the listener, that takes up the larger percentage of time on this album.
So as the sparse, piano driver closer, “Make Something Good” rolls around, this listener feels satisfied. The fact that we’ve heard this type of album done many times doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still good. As I mentioned before, this is an album of circumstance. If you’re looking for something refreshing and new, look elsewhere. But if you want to listen to something pleasant, something inviting; this is the album for you. A mixture of her tender voice, gentle finger pricking, and ear for melody, allows July Flame to work. While the rest of the album might not match up to the superb opening track, it’s still worth a listen. This album can sometimes be inconsequential, but it’s always pleasant. Plus Jim James makes a guest appearance on this record, so that’s always pretty good.