Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reviews:: Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts - From The Photographs

Laura Peek is very busy. Along with her job as music director at Halifax's CKDU and her solo work (with her band The Winning Hearts), she's also been involved with a number of other groups & side projects: The Maughams, Brent Randall & His Pinecones, Le Coque et les Phoques, and playing in Buck65's band. So all things considered, I suppose it's not surprising her debut album, From The Photographs, took 2 years to make. But make it she did, and that's a good thing, because it's really an enjoyable album.

Originally, I was planning to say that Laura's piano playing was the main focus of most of the songs found on From The Photographs, but after a few listens I had to rethink that. I think her songwriting shares top billing with her piano work. The songs are cleverly written and cover normally serious ground without feeling too serious, if that makes sense. There is an appealing, light-hearted quality to these songs, which is impressive considering most of the songs deal with some form of loss or regret. I think part of the appeal comes from the fact that very few of the songs feel dark or heavy. Peek's piano is used to craft peppy arrangements, and her voice is warm and friendly, so that helps draw you in, regardless of the subject matter.

With someone so involved in the Halifax music scene, you might guess Laura probably had some quality help making this album. Well you guess correct friend. Recorded by the omnipresent Charles Austin, Peek also tabbed Mike O'Neil to make his debut as a producer on From The Photographs. Thankfully for all, Mike is far more believable as a producer then he is as Tom Collins in the latest season of Trailer Park Boys. The Winning Hearts are comprised mainly of Dave Ewenson on drums and Joel Goguen on bass. Ewenson's drums are upfront with the piano on most tracks, with Goguen providing solid background work. Although the bassline on Stand Right There is rather excellent.

The album opens with A Name, a tale of a failed adolescent love. It's a sweet prelude to the kind of short-story songwriting Peek uses throughout the album. So Sorry opens with a piano breakdown that Dr. Dre would be envious of. It also has a jazzy chorus that is mighty catchy. I often find myself wishing there were more sunny piano-pop songs about landlords observing their surroundings in a disapproving manner. Oh Lenny helps satisfies that request, plus it opens with the line "Family out back don't care much for haircuts", which I enjoy.

Although the aforementioned Stand Right There has a bass & kickdrum combo that will keep your head nodding more than your average breakup song, it also uses a cello and some organ flourishes on the chorus to nice effect. Vermont is perhaps the sweetest song about summer camp romance I've heard this year. Well perhaps not just this year, perhaps ever. Last Thing You Deserved and The Verdict are enjoyable, uptempo songs about the various ways life can deliver a swift kick to the coin purse. I also enjoy the spacey piano breakdown on Last Thing You Deserved.

I heard someone describe Peek's songwriting style as literary, and this line from the Gatsby-esque Social Graces is a good example of that: When in the salons of elite patrons of art, spare a thought for all your colleagues who were not quite as smart". For some reason, I love that line. Quite a feat to drop that and not come off as super serious.

The more I listen to this album, the more nuances I pick up in both the lyrics and music. It could just be I'm too thick to pick them up on first listen, but I'm going to assume it's mainly a sign of a good album. If you've been looking for some quality, non-depressing piano-pop, I would suggest you check out this album. Well even if you haven't been looking for piano-pop at all, From The Photographs is well worth your time.

mp3:: So Sorry

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