Laura Love

Welcome to Pagan Place

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There is no doubt that Laura Love is a smokin' bass player and a talented musician. Her records have always been mixed bags though. Welcome to Pagan Place may be her most consistent and successful recording to date, with a seamless weaving of folk, pop, jazz, a tad of rock and blues, and some shimmering reggae here and there. Compositionally Love is always engaging and often even remarkable. Lyrically, however -- and pardon what may appear to be cynicism -- she doesn't match her other talents. She doesn't pretend to be anybody other than what she is, a singer and songwriter, but this album offers a vision of her as a lot more and a little less. In her genre, she is peerless as a composer. Her deep understanding of rhythm, textures, and instrumental phrasing is singular in the "folk" world. And surrounding herself with musicians such as violinist Barbara Lamb and guitarist Rod Cook doesn't hurt either. Lyrically, however, she seems to fall short or is at least at odds with her music. "Santa Rosa," which comes off as a sophisticated Victoria Williams tune without Williams' poetry, is one example. The jazz interlude in the bridge is brilliant. On "Can't Nobody," which is deeply rooted in organic funk and blues, the words seem to be repetitive and only scratch the surface of what it is she is trying to say. An exception is the gorgeous country ballad "Gonna Rain Hard." The simplicity of the lyric with the earthy sensibility of the acoustic guitars and single-note bassline is perfect, and Love's voice is sublime on the track. The layered vocals on the stomping bluegrass is super, so much so the words just go by until the funky break at the end of the refrain. The fusion of Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" and the Beatles "Come Together" is clever, and the bass groove is tremendous, but it doesn't hold up to repeated listens. "I Want You Gone" feels like something Wendy & Lisa would do and has the same sexy funkiness that is oh so greasy but squeaky clean at the same time. Again, Love's vocals are lovely, but the words are, well, trite. There is nothing insincere in Love's lyrics. Quite the opposite. The complaint is small: it's simply that Love's musical gifts are so plentiful it makes what might be perfectly passable for a lesser composer seem like a flaw in her otherwise amazing oeuvre. All of that said, this album is highly recommended because another listener might not have the same difficulty.

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