A picturesque town in northeast Oregon, La Grande was named by a French settler in honour of its natural beauty, and is where Laura Gibson found inspiration for her latest album. She describes it as being in possession of "a certain gravity, a curious energy" – something equally applicable to the record itself, which builds on the sparse, haunting folk of 2009’s Beasts of Seasons and winds up certainly stranger but no less engaging for it.
Concerned with the notion of travel and journeys, wildness and domesticity, the necessity of moving forward and maintaining courage, it is a far cry from the familial and existential themes that coloured her previous work. A few gentle, finger-picked ballads are present – and they are as well-realised and effective as ever – but the album spreads itself over a broader instrumental canvas than you might expect, featuring contributions from Calexico’s Joey Burns alongside assorted Decemberists, Dodos and Jilly Coykendall offering some gorgeous clarinet work. There is plenty of the sweeping drama that Calexico epitomise to be found here – the title-track boasts a swaggering, percussive backbone furnished with all manner of dusty frontier sounds, while Lion/Lamb shuffles forth on louche, fluttering backing, only loosely anchored by Gibson’s acoustic guitar shapes.
And then there is her voice, which has always been pretty, in a vintage, timeless kind of way. Here it reaches new levels, thanks to a raft of home-recorded vocal sessions which permeate the LP. On songs like The Rushing Dark, call-to-arms Time Is Not and measured, graceful closer Feather Lungs, they add to the record a wonderful old scratched-vinyl quality.
It is easy, of course, to throw such adjectives around when faced with something as singularly lovely as Gibson’s voice, but this gem of a long-player – both sleepy and steely, mystical yet rooted in very real and universal themes – deserves all the plaudits that will hopefully meet its release.