Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

by Jim Harris Rating:7 Release Date:2016-04-01

I’ve not been a huge fan of The Decemberists, as there always seemed a bit of stilted pretension around the vocals that make me come right to the edge of enjoying the music and then pulling back. So the idea of their side-singer, Laura Gibson, going solo has always left me a bit cold. Now she has a new album out called Empire Builder, and I decided to take the leap. It’s well worth it.

Empire Builder as a title sounds more like a 'rags to riches' cheap novel or something, but Laura has an interesting voice and the backing band has quite a pedigree, so it turns out the album is interesting more often than not. With the mixture of curious song structures that begin right off with the first track, ‘The Cause’, on through the title track, the music is always surprising in its sparseness and thanks to Neko Case’s drummer, the percussion is always pushing things ahead nicely.

Gibson’s voice is one of those alternative ubiquitous voices that make you think of Regina Spektor or Cat Power and perhaps hundreds of others.  A sweet, slightly unique female voice, melancholy folk song structures.  Perfect.  It doesn’t help her cause any that she has done several commercials.  (Her voice is a perfect fit for a sound bite to accompany a young lady slowly walking through a field of flowers and butterflies in praise of some new anti-anxiety pill…)

But is there enough here to extend her above the wild, crazy pack of any number of alternative folk singers just like her?  Maybe.  ‘Two Kids’ sounds startlingly like Regina Spektor but then degenerates nicely into more a country flavored song and therein lies where Laura Gibson perhaps extends the metaphor just enough to separate her from the others.  Her music is a cut above and a bit earthier than most of her contemporaries.  Regardless, I find her stuff much more listenable than The Decemberists.

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