Though this is officially Laura Veirs' second release, it only became more popularly available after her U.K.-based label, Bella Union, decided to reissue it in 2005. What The Triumphs & Travails of Orphan Mae shows is a young singer still just starting off on her own, marking territory. Veirs' voice has that same honest, almost girlish, quality about it that makes her so utterly likable on Carbon Glacier or Year of Meteors, and while the songwriting is perhaps a bit lyrically simpler than what's on her later records, the intimacy that Veirs is able to communicate creates a sense of fullness and completeness that even an orchestra wouldn't be able to provide. The album loosely tells the story of a girl wandering around the American West, with Veirs using different points of view to convey the sense of loneliness, beauty, longing, and adventure that comes with such a voyage, the most affecting example of which is found on "Montague Road." "Her lips are cracked, it hurts to talk," Veirs sings fuzzily over hollow, Portishead-like drums and bass, giving first-person details from the safe distance of an outside observer, the distortion on the vocals moving listeners even further away so there can never quite be actual intimacy, only hints of it, just as the solitary traveler herself is destined to the same fate, these fleeting moments of connection. Its subtlety is stunning, and indicative of the record as a whole, a forlorn piece of work about regret and remembrance and constant motion (even the closing song, the most optimistic on the entire album, is still, as evidenced by its title, "Movin' On," not about to settle down). There's something so personal about it, and Veirs' melodies throughout the entire album are comfortingly familiar, as if they've evolved from the Great American Songbook somehow (or, as in the case of "Blue Ink," Sheryl Crow's "The Difficult Kind"), all resting somewhere within our deep and possibly unconscious collective memory, as if -- even though we may not be able articulate it -- these are feelings and words we already know well. Luckily, Laura Veirs is here to say them for everyone.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown