As angels descend from the heavens, they must sound something like Laurel Brauns. If they don’t, they could hang out awhile to find inspiration from below in House of Snow, Brauns’ latest release. With vocals that range from angelic sweet to Patsy Cline strong, Brauns at times wanes only waiting to wail in her next track.
She assembles an A-list group of musicians to join her in what’s likely her best work yet. Deeply personal, House of Snow is abundantly accessible to the ear. Themes of love, lost love and betrayal pervade her writing. As listeners, we get wrapped up in her life and we really want her to win, even it it’s only fleeting “Puppy Love.”
House of Snow marks an important emergence for the New Hampshire transplant who alternates time between Portland and Bend. On this album, Brauns’ solo career takes flight on a strong guitar, a voice as wide as the Oregon sky and some help from friends.
The title song, “House of Snow,” is a beautifully written and sung tale. The refrain: “Build us a house of snow and promise not to go, ’til it flies up in the breeze, or melts into the streams … ” is a passionate pleading to a lover. The fragility of relationships and of love seems to skip along a base line while Brauns’ vocals fill the space in between. The violins played by Lucia Conrad and Justin Mackewich bring a Baroque dreamlike quality to the song. The drawn out notes of the violin create, in this piece, an emotion that nicely fits the futility of a house made of snow.
Rich guitar with keyboard accompaniment in “Kaleidoscope Eyes” continues with a wistful longing. “Kaleidoscope eyes, change your colors for me, phosphorescent at night, like stars in the sea.”
Having spent time in Northern Ireland, Brauns sounds just as comfortable playing “Maps” –a theme and variation on an Irish jig with bodhran, and cello and violin accompaniment.
“Dreams” brings together a dramatic blend of violin, guitar and drums. In this song, Brauns shows a deeper range of vocals and channels an Annie Lennox-like tenor. Her intensity becomes a haunting, ominous yet mellifluous.
Just when you think you know her sound, Brauns tacks in another direction with Sam Cooper on the banjo in “Anywhere.” We don’t know for sure if Brauns’ is that little girl in a red dress and boots in the little white boat in this song, but House of Snow is a gale force of songs that just might take Brauns anywhere, including bigger venues and bigger stages, if that’s indeed where she points her little white boat.
Though love, and lost love are powerful winds, Brauns could expand her repertoire and fan base by embracing a broader range of topics. In Northern Ireland, those include fighting and drinking.
Buy it on iTunes
Get a hard copy here of the album, with art by Kasey Anseth:
Hear the title track “House of Snow”