Andriana Lehr – Artifacts
The sophomore album from singer/songwriter Andriana Lehr represents the full flowering of talent evident on her debut, 2013’s Try to Be True. The new album Artifacts spends a lot of time trying to strike the right musical mood, invariably succeeding, but there’s far more to this ten song collection than theatricality and style. Lehr’s choices show her to be a genuine artist of growing powers who fearlessly incorporates a wide variety of sounds and instruments into her work. There are few artists with the audacity to marry dobro with classical instruments, but not only does Lehr do this, but she has the ample talent to pull it off. Much of this, to be sure, is the result of surrounding herself with a cadre of top flight musicians who can aid her in realizing this musical vision and production support that is top class down the line.
One of her avowed influences, Joni Mitchell, comes through in her vocal delivery with amazing clarity. Few songs on Artifacts are a better example of this than the opener “Outrun the Change”. The song seems to coalesce into being much more than emerging from the speakers in the standard way and, once it establishes itself, spends a lot of its musical capital on creating atmosphere. Drummer Steve Goold, one of two outstanding percussionists Lehr uses on this album, contributes much, but the unquestionable star of the show here is Lehr and her lyrics. The vocal melody underlines the writing quality with the varying tempo of her delivery. “Ready To Be” has some outstanding jazzy drumming from Goold along with contributions on pedal steel guitar from Ken Wilson. Laurels String Quartet makes an appearance on this song; it’s our first real evidence on Artifacts that Lehr is playing by a very different set of rules than many young songwriters and has the wherewithal to make it work.
Goold’s drummer adopts a similar approach on the track “Catch 22”. This is much more of a traditional country track than many of the other songs on Artifacts and its busy shuffle is obviously well written and tightly rehearsed. Ken Wilson’s pedal steel laces through the song and gives it another melodic voice in the mix. The vocal melody here is much more underplayed in comparison to the earlier tracks, but Lehr still shines through. Laurels String Quartet returns on the song “Halfway Home”, a slowly evolving and mournful introspective song that gives Lehr a platform for her best vocal performance on Artifacts. Her ability to inhabit the mix without ever exerting a lot of vocal muscle, but it isn’t just empty style. Instead, listening to her phrasing and how completely locked in it is with the song – this is a vocalist capable of bringing the fullness of her talent to bear on anything she touches.
The string quartet makes its final appearance on the album with the song “Putting Up a Fight”. Lehr’s piano playing pops up a couple of times on Artifacts and this song marks its final appearance. It never goes in for musical pyrotechnics and, instead, ably supports her singing. It’s one of the most spartan track, musically, on the album but that doesn’t mean it takes shortcuts. The last song on Artifacts, “The Expansion of Everything”, is equally stripped back in some respects, but Cory Grossman’s contributions on cello are key to the track’s success. The song is a great closer because it neatly sums up many of the themes explored in earlier songs with a tighter lens than those fine tracks manage. Artifacts is the second, all important step in a career that Lehr is clearly building with an eye towards posterity.
9 out of 10 stars