Laura Veirs‘ My Echo sounds like it was written and recorded during the recent pandemic because of its claustrophobic themes of confinement and disintegration. But that’s not true, according to Veirs in the Bandcamp album description. Instead, she was restricted by domesticity, getting older, an oppressive government, and the threat of apocalypse in a pre-COVID world. Veirs may have intuited what would happen in the future, but she did not consciously think so during the creation of her latest studio album. She was writing about the end of her marriage and her feelings of isolation. The thematic connections between these ten songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.
Despite the seeming bleakness of the song’s topics, they offer solace rather than aggravation. There are worse things than being alone. Veirs finds comfort in being marooned in “Turquoise Walls” because it allows her to be spiteful instead of feeling paranoid. She can complain because she has a reason to, and that gives the song an astringent pleasure. The meta quality of this and the other material (i.e., she is not singing about being alone, she is singing about how she felt being alone) allows Veirs to offer more than one perspective on her situation. She comes off as amiable and even a bit good-natured, despite it all.
As the album’s title My Echo suggests, Veirs know she is talking to herself. She’s also a good listener. The songs are conversational and grow in sophistication over the length of the tune. They explore thoughts and feelings more than resolving them. Veirs’ breathy voice complements this notion. She frequently sounds as if she is making a physical effort to move forward. Jim James joins her on vocals on the mystical “All the Things”, but Bill Frissell on the electronic guitar demands one’s attention. He makes Veirs’ declarations about the things she cannot see seem like they are present.
James also contributes vocals on the more optimistic “Vapor Trails”, but another guest guitarist (M. Ward) steals the show. Veirs’ vocals are always at the forefront, but the plush instrumentals behind her add a richness to her delivery and the material. Other players include Patti King (“Bizarre Star Strings”) and Karl Blau (bass) on three different tracks apiece and a selection of string and synth artists.
When Veirs genially lilts “how it’s nice to be alive” during a season of death on “Memaloose Island”, she sounds alone but with the (instrumental) voices in her head. The mix of thoughts and feelings transcends language. The result suggests that even when most removed from others, we are never without their presence. That’s a double-edged sword.
Veirs only performs one track as a solo performer (voice and piano), the Armageddon themed “End Times”, and the first thing that comes to her mind during the end of the world is another human being. She gleefully notes her love for another will supersede the physical pain as the planet catches fire and falls apart. She’s ironic. The end times referred to are clearly the end of a relationship despite the earthly details. Love can’t conquer all. Some disasters are just too big, and we end up singing to ourselves. That’s why there is music.