Laurel Brauns knows what is expected of her as a twenty-something female musician. And she knows that with her style of music, she's going to be automatically compared to Ani DiFranco. Unfortunately for the masses, Brauns neither writes the clich & eacute; lyrics of a 24-year old's struggle with relationships, and she doesn't think she sounds anything like DiFranco, although she thinks the compliment is nice.
But Brauns doesn't deny the fact that she has 24-year-old emotions.
"There's always a period of growth that I'm going through," she says about the differences among her four albums. "As an independent woman musician, it can get kind of complicated when I'm in relationships."
Her style, she says, attempts to find a union between folk and traditional rock.
"Rock lyrics tend to be more ambiguous. With folk, you're going to find more of a story and a theme."
Brauns, a New Hampshire native and a current resident of Portland, Ore. says that she likes to incorporate social commentary (like DiFranco) into her songs, while at the same time relating a story. She got her start as an indie-folk singer while living in Ireland. Brauns received a grant during college to study the political murals of West Belfast and Gerry -- murals that were of great significance to warring Protestants and Catholics. It was there that she began "busking" -- or becoming a street performer. She played her guitar on the sidewalks of Galway for anyone who would listen.
"There's something that happens, a physical reaction that happens, when I hear music," she says.
That passion carried her home, where she started to play her music in Boston bars, New England ski lodges and colleges across the country. She drew on her experiences for her lyrics, and the influence of artists like Tori Amos, P.J. Harvey, Bob Dylan and Tool. She soon released her first album, Swimming, while she attended Lewis and Clark College -- concentrating on folk rock and Celtic music.
With her family in New Hampshire, and her college in Oregon, Brauns started playing on both sides of the country. Now with a new album, Brauns is touring in the same fashion. She will begin her solo tour in Spokane with a free show at the Shop on Wednesday.
"Back there, they like the more traditional stuff that I do," she said of her East Coast audiences. "Out here, people are into hearing something different. So if do something weird, they are into it."
Her latest album, Periphery, is no exception. Brauns holds a different conversation with the listener during each track -- traversing among flying horses, plastic dolls, eating disorders and songs about past drug-addicted friends. In the last track, "Percy Schmeiser," Brauns talks about a canola farmer she met in Saskatchewan who had recently lost his farm to GMO monster Monsanto. She makes strong comments on the falling of the World Trade Center towers in her song "Backroads." In a press packet, the song is described as "a 'Star Spangled Banner' for the rest of us: the bike messengers and bellboys, the office temps and baristas, the dishwashers and cubicle-confined working stiffs."
Brauns chuckled at the description, saying that it wasn't her description -- but she thinks it's accurate.
"People took [Sept. 11] to be an excuse to be very patriotic and putting American flags on the back of their SUVs," she says. "It seemed like the mainstream had an unquestioning loyalty, instead of asking why something like that happened."
That attitude pervades all of her songs -- and she knows that, because of that, she isn't a mainstream artist. And that's exactly what she wants.
Periphery features her and a band of her friends -- a conglomeration of guitar, violin, cello, organ and mandolin. Brauns recorded the 10-track album at Portland's Jackpot! -- one of the city's most well known independent labels. Seeing the successes of other Northwest acts, Brauns partnered up with Larry Crane, an engineer who lent his hand in the past to Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney.
Music for the Masses -- You've heard it before: It's not what you know in the music business, it's who you know. Such is the case with Adema, the band that plays the Met on Friday night. Adema's meteoric rise in the heavily saturated genre of hardcore music can be attributed to one thing: good connections. Vocalist Mark Chavez is the half brother of Korn's Jonathan Davis. How would this fact affect the seemingly natural success of Adema, a band with cutting-edge nu-metal anthems and hardcore looks?
Consider for a moment that its debut album was released on major label, Arista. Not bad for a first stab. Adema also landed a coveted main stage slot on Ozzfest right after the release of its first album, a virtually unheard-of move for a new band. The kicker here is that these guys are from Bakersfield, Calif. Other than a complete drought of indigenous talent, what would posses major label executives to go band-hunting in Bakersfield as opposed to, say, Los Angeles? A friendly phone call or a well-placed demo perhaps? Even fans agree that sometimes Chavez "disguises" his voice to sound like Davis though that could also be interpreted as genetic similarities.
However, the band has done well with its shot at the big time. The appearance on Ozzfest brought forth future opportunities. Adema followed up with a place on the Snow Core tour and an opening slot supporting the mega-huge Linkin Park. This mass exposure to worldwide audiences translated well into record sales for the group. The self-titled debut album scored a near-platinum mark and established a solid fan base here and abroad. The London music rag NME gushed that "Adema's visceral, artfully succinct rock punch comes brilliantly wrapped in killer whistle-able tunes." You know you've arrived when the British press anoints your tunes "whistle-able." This strong showing brought high hopes for the follow-up album, and the band was not about to disappoint.
Adema released Unstable in August, and sales have been strong. The hard-hitting aggressive sounds are still there, and even a few laid-back tracks made the cut. Influences detected on the latest record include Nirvana and U2. One facet that is refreshingly missing on this record are clich & eacute; drum loops and synthesizers. The band's mission statement is to rock out live, and they wanted the songs to translate well to the live arena. They don't want to leave anything on the stage, and from the looks of things, they intend to pummel audiences on this tour with their brand of shattering musical annihilation.
Miss Kitty and Friends -- There have got to be some folks out there who like their country "countryfied" -- as in, with actual meat on it -- made by artists stylistically and spiritually aligned with the forces that compelled Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and many others to popularize a great American musical form. And that's just what you are going to get Monday night at the Spokane Opera House with "Traditionally Yours," a traditional country show straight from the Grand Ole Opry featuring the talents of Whisperin' Bill Anderson, Jean Shepard, George Hamilton IV, Johnny Wright, Bobby Wright and the first lady of country music, Kitty Wells. The show will provide real country fans with a rare opportunity to enjoy these legendary performers together during one stage show on one day.
Country music used to be about real people, real joy and real heartache. It was as honest as dirt under your fingernails and more enduring. The classics of traditional Country & amp; Western from the '40s, '50s and '60s continue to this day to be performed and appreciated. The artists that made them famous are still revered. Fifty years from now, will people still be listening to and singing along with "Who's Your Daddy?" and "Forever and for Always?" What do you think? Would you like to put a small wager on that?
Take Kitty Wells, for example. From the time she broke into the Top 10 in 1952 with the No. 1 single, "God Didn't Make Honkey Tonk Angels" (with controversial pre-feminist lyrics, which blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women) till the end of her string of big hits in the late 1960s, Wells was hailed as the undisputed queen of country music. To this day, her stature within popular music is undiminished. And for good reason. Her willingness in the 1950s to sing controversial material was profoundly inspirational and helped pave the way for the many female country performers (Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, etc.) that would soon follow her. For this and for her artistry she was inducted into the country music hall of fame in 1974 and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1991.
Now that's the kind of country that will never be forgotten.
Publication date: 10/02/03