Click to hear: “Strawberry Banke”
Laurel Brauns made a strong impression on me before I even heard the first song on her new CD, Closed for the Season. With song titles like “North 93,” “I’ll Be Your Sylvia Plath,” “Strawberry Banke,” and “Shane MacGowan,” I was intrigued. I scanned the lyrics, finding imagery and subject matter as varied as mid-nineteenth-century New Hampshire, Persephone, snow angels, claymation, and Super 8 movies. Even if she couldn’t sing, I thought to myself, Lauren Brauns seems like the type of person I’d want to invite to a dinner party.
Luckily for listeners of this wide-ranging collection, Brauns can sing. The Portsmouth-based performer brings her unique blend of indie-folk and indie-rock to Portland’s Blue this Saturday for a party celebrating the album’s release. The intimate downtown venue should be an ideal locale for Brauns to showcase her considerable vocal abilities. On Closed for the Season, she ranges from the hushed, neo-folk warble of “I’ll Be Your Sylvia Plath,” to the intense sharpness of “Strawberry Bank,” and the earnest clarity of “Cinderella.”
Brauns’ songwriting style is, fittingly, conversational. Often addressing an ambiguous “you,” she sings of a longing for an innocence that never existed, a truth between lies, and the simple comfort a road-weary soul will drive for hours to find.
Nowhere is this style more evident than on the melancholic road tune “North 93”: “In the picture your sister is laughing out loud, as your dad pulled the sled and you danced around. First snow in a town a few exits from mine, but the story it told we both knew was a lie . . . When are you coming home to New Hampshire? When will you be driving the North 93? And if you’re so determined, I’ll be laying in lakes this year till they freeze.”
Closed for the Season has its moments of grin-inducing humor, too. The two shortest songs on the CD, “I’ll Be Your Sylvia Plath” (1:28) and “Shane MacGowan” (1:37), reveal Brauns’ willingness to find irony and black humor amid the often critical introspection of her songwriting. “I’ll find a reason to lay here all season, let the cigarette gardens grow. Yes, I’ll take you to France. We’ll get fucked up on gin and we’ll dance and we’ll dance. I’ll be your Sylvia Plath.”
Through the famously besotted Pogues singer MacGowan, she reluctantly faces her own demons: “I don’t want to be Shane MacGowan. He falls off the stage and makes such a charade… But the man knows how to drink till he can’t even think. Sometimes I could be Shane MacGowan.”
The best example of Brauns’ merging of humor and her keen eye for detail arrives on the last, unlisted “mystery track” on the disc, a song about seasonal work in the service industry. “I think I’ll go chug a beer in the walk-in,” she begins, “cuz the manager is high on Oxycotins. And the people on the deck, they can’t believe the view. Can I convince them we are worthy of the next buck or two?” It ends, like many of her songs, a bit wistfully: “I’ve spent the summer wasting, but it’s been ten seasons long.” It’s obvious here – and everywhere else on Closed for the Season – that she knows of what she sings.
Brauns will be performing with a full band at Blue, which also should be a treat.Closed for the Season is awash in wonderful instrumentation, particularly the cello of Kristin Miller and Nate Horton, Caroline Kokko’s violin, and the tasteful touches of pedal steel by former Say ZuZu member Jon Nolan, who produced this album. Arrive early and get a good seat for an evening of interesting conversation and some fine music from an intriguing artist.
— Tom Flynn