Sunday, January 8, 2017

Andriana Lehr – Artifacts

Andriana Lehr – Artifacts 

Second albums are, traditionally, a steep hump for many performers to get over. If they’ve experienced significant critical success, like Andriana Lehr did with her 2013 debut Try to Be True, the urge to follow the lead of that first album with the sophomore effort is a powerful lure. It is, however, a dead end. Entertainers want to entertain. Artists, however, who write and perform from a much deeper need soon realize that successful artistic runs are not built on the backs of repetition. Instead, the challenge is to grow, branch out, and evolve without losing the initial spirit that fired your career and passion. Andriana Lehr fills this mission out quite handily with her second album Artifacts. It’s a well crafted and deeply felt sophomore release that finds her musical adventurousness at a higher level than ever before, but it shows a command of technique that outstrips even her fine first release.  

“Outrun the Change” gives us a clear idea of where her head space is with these songs. Undoubtedly, the numerous years that have passed since Lehr left her South Dakota farm for the bright lights and boundless promise of the big city, in this case the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metroplex, have provided her with numerous examples of how our connections in life change and fall away no matter how much we might value them. The vocal melody here is simply gorgeous and brings the lyrics to listeners in a very attention grabbing fashion. There’s an urgency here that’s quite appealing. Other songs find this urgency as well, albeit in different ways. “Ready to Be” has an understated, just below the surface level stream of frustration and regret about the challenges of establishing one’s individuality in a culture that seems to undercut it and honest communication at every turn, but the message likewise stresses the necessity of our efforts if we want to experience self-realization. “Ashes in the Fog” is a much more muted affair both musically and lyrical with a poetic veneer that many will enjoy. Ken Wilson’s pedal steel guitar is a wonderful addition to this track and takes it in the direction of pure classic country without ever confining itself to genre.  

“Bright Yellow Lights” is another impressive stylistic turn. In this song, Lehr makes great use of tenor sax to bring another unusual instrumental voice into what most will likely hear as an Americana performer. The reverb effects on the lead guitar work also provide another semi-unusual sonic element. There’s a lot of pain and thoughtfulness laced through this particular track and much of that bubbles to the surface thanks to these imaginative choices and her fine vocal. “Halfway Home” takes the album a little into neo-classical territory with its use of a string quartet and Lehr’s piano playing, but it’s a very theatrical piece that still keeps a strong connection to simplicity and certainly has atmosphere to burn. The album’s second to last song, “Streets of Saint Paul”, has some of the same hints of classical flavor bleeding in around the edges, but this is much more of a straight-autobiographical track that Lehr wisely chooses to keep as uncluttered as possible. Artifacts is one of the most well thought out releases coming from the singer/songwriter genre in recent memory and promises much for Lehr’s future. 

9 out of 10 stars 

Dale Butcher

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