Seattle’s Lisa Marie Claire returns with an eleven-song effort entitled Dawn. It’s the latest musical triumph in a burgeoning career littered with such moments. Claire ups her songwriting prowess with each new release and listeners will be hard-pressed picking even a single song that smacks of filler. Breaking down these tracks reveals her faculty with the multiple styles she explores, but her true achievement lies elsewhere. You’ll find it in her sharp intelligence allowing her to marry seemingly disparate styles into a coherent whole with nary a stylistic hiccup along the way.
“Redwood Wrecks” reflects the cool confidence and command of language sustaining each of her prior releases. She is unafraid to confront the darker corners of her life and heart. Surrounding them with effervescent arrangements that refrain from any bluster and, instead, aspire to performed poetry is a minor masterstroke. It dilutes the darkness we often hear in her lyrical content without ever neutering it. Balancing such qualities without fail is a skill too few have.
“Cloudy Mornings” is one of the album’s best cuts. The combination of a delicate yet layered arrangement alongside one of the sharpest lyrics from Claire makes for a track you won’t soon forget. Some may hear Claire’s vocals and think her voice is a little too thin to carry these songs, but a closer and more attentive listen reveals subtle inflections in her phrasing. She’s an especially canny singer here. The relaxed groove driving “Names and Faces” pairs well with one of the best examples of Claire’s piano playing. Her effortless ability for invoking melody reaches one of a handful of zeniths during this performance without ever sounding too precious or overly delicate.
Claire understands the arrangements that work best for her. “There’s Always Suicide” is a prime example of that. A song that in lesser hands could be an exhausting and dreary experience rises above such potential limitations on the back of its uber intelligent musical arrangement. Listen closely to the skillful tempo adjustments and unpredictable chord changes. She’s surrounded this dire missive in lyrical form with an arrangement that mitigates the darkness in its message.
“Unstrange” matches its creative excellence. Claire’s writing sets a high bar, but even the album’s middle and later tracks avoid the faintest hint of filler. Heavy-handed composers would have likely turned in an album of glacial ballads, but Claire understands the demands for diversity and even the slower tracks vary from one to the next. “After Dark” illustrates that as well. Crisp acoustic guitar and pedal steel courtesy of Jordan Walton engage in a quasi-dialogue with each other, and the lyrics turn on a number of key moments.
Lisa Marie Claire’s Dawn is, in the end, a life-affirming artistic exercise. It may strikes listeners as odd when you call an album life-affirming despite one of the song titles practically advocating the merits of offing yourself. Its existence is a triumph in the face of life’s obstacles and Claire sings each of the eleven tracks like a proverbial angel.