I was much taken by Anna Elizabeth Laube’s eponymous folk pop 2015 release (review here) and am equally so by ‘Tree‘. A swift follow-up (on which her middle name makes its bow), although this time round there is little evidence of her lyrical playfulness, surfacing only on the itchy jazz-inclined rhythm of Sunny Days arranged for just guitar and acoustic bass. The only other upbeat tracks are both covers, a faithful fiddle waltzing version of Dylan’s countrified Wallflower (written in 1971 but never released until 1991’s Bootleg Series volumes) and a rather fine reimagining of Beyonce’s XO as a fingerpicked acoustic ballad, burnished midway through by trumpet.
Tree, titled after a 100-year-old silver maple that grew in the garden of her Iowan City childhood home, it addresses themes of letting go of the past, finding a home and connecting with nature with a sober – though never dour – mien. The title track itself, featuring just bass and guitars, was written for Sing For The Trees, an awareness raising songwriting competition about the pine beetle epidemic (she was one of the 10 finalists) and traces the importance of trees in her life. Environmental matters are also at the core of heartfelt piano ballad Please Let It Ran In California Tonight, a song that addresses the ongoing drought, but which also has a metaphorical canvas about personal and societal healing (“Please let the darkness find the light. Please let my brother be all right”).
As befits an album called Tree, there are two numbers that revolve around putting down roots, on Longshoreman, backed by acoustic bass and keys, she sings “Longshoreman tie my ship up tight to your lighthouse light” while the Suzanne Vega-like pedal steel caressed All My Runnin’, another song that employs maritime imagery, has her in less metaphorical form confessing “everything I need is in this room”.
The letting go side of things can be found on the barroom waltzing Lose, Lose, Lose on which, with its gospel harmonies and spoken passage, she recalls a young Tammy Wynette as she sings of a toxic relationship (“’babe you’re more like a bottle of whiskey and a razor blade wrapped in two”) and I Miss You So Much (“Won’t you please let me go. Give me sweet release”), another slow waltz stained by forlorn harmonica with brushed drums and the vocals echoey and back in the mix.
Not as buoyantly upbeat as her last album, perhaps, but, if you’ll excuse the arboreal pun, its bark is every bit as potent as its bite.
Tree is out now and available via Bandcamp