OK, so it's August, but as Chicago's summer heat begins waning there's plenty of warmth and light still to draw from Laura Veirs' "July Flame." This is the seventh album from the Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter, which means it's even more tragic that more people haven't discovered her by now. This outing might be her tour de force, the best collection of sunny, satisfying songs she's assembled yet.
"July Flame" builds on Veirs' penchant for writing songs about nature and the outdoors, this time perfectly capturing the languid feel of midsummer. The name comes from a variety of peaches she once saw at a farmer's market.
Opening with the resonant holler of Gillian Welch, "I Can See Your Tracks" sets the seasonal tone. Veirs' romantic tracking skills allow her to follow the path of a fleeing loved one -- but she chooses not to. She opts to remain behind, in a "lonely cave" while "quaking in my boots." While celebrating those peaches in the title track, she also stirs "the ashes of a secret heart" and wonders aloud, over and over, in a voice not unlike the bird calls of a July evening, "Can I call you mine?" None of this can rightly be described as brooding or even melancholy. It's simply thoughtful -- those adult moments of consideration, spent staring into space for a brief time, thinking about life's current currencies while nature hums and buzzes outside an open window.
All this "stays in tune through a thousand blooms" -- that lyric from the beautiful closing number, an anthem for every morning, "Make Something Good" -- thanks to evocative, breezy arrangements of guitar, piano, sometimes banjo, maybe a horn or two. Any extra instrumentation is applied for color, never in excess. Veirs' childlike but firm voice is occasionally augmented by Karl Blau or My Morning Jacket's Jim James. The songs are delicate but don't fray, and always -- even in the many meditative moments -- warm like the sun. This album was released in January, in the dead of winter, and should remain a cozy companion throughout the seasons ahead.
Catch Veirs in concert Sept. 27 at Lincoln Hall.