Lauren Calve changes up a gear and delivers a fine full-length debut album after a series of EPs.
Lauren Calve is in her mid-thirties, a self-taught singer-songwriter, guitarist and artist, born in Kansas, brought up in Northern Virgina, based in Washington DC and now releasing her first full-length album recorded in Nashville. Starting with open mic nights when she was fifteen, and playing and touring for many years now, Calve has released two or three EPs over the last 8 years or so.
A self-confessed sufferer of anxiety and OCD, a drinker trying for some time to kick the habit and recently unengaged after a six-year romance, Calve has now focused her demons into an album significantly different from her previous offerings, which were largely blues and roots-based. ‘Shift’ is an album of powerful pop country, which puts her into the same competitive arena as artists like Sheryl Crow and Sharon van Etten, which she confidently handles through the catchiness of her songs and her literary songwriting She has the great good fortune to have a crack band in the studio to give these songs a big boost. Dex Green produces and co-writes much of the album, he and Audley Freed (from the Sheryl Crow band) play some wonderful guitar (all reverb and swampy) with John Figura and Frankie Grocholski chipping in too, while drummers Marlon Patton and award-winning Fred Eltringham drive the album along with Robert Kearns on bass. It’s a very guitar-driven album, not so usual these days, and they produce some lovely sounds.
The title track kicks off the album and sets the tone for the entire set – a shift in sound and production, a shift in her life and a shift generally speaking, the inevitability of change that everyone has to go through. ‘Everything at the Same Time’ temporarily picks the pace up, with a song that suggests that opposites are really the same, just two sides of the same coin (an inspiration from the philosopher Carl Jung).
Calve has a powerful voice which is put to good use, especially when competing against the twin guitar background. Occasionally the verses of her songs ‘strain to rhyme’, in the words of Paul Simon, but she can deliver some beautifully earworm choruses and, in some cases, the repeated refrain of the song title is very effective. The lovely ‘See You Again’ is a case in point, reinforcing the feeling of grief in the song, in this particular case the loss of two of Calve’s grandparents, although it could equally apply to the loss of a loved one (something close to Calve’s heart, no doubt). ‘Plug Me In’ is another, about being a millennial growing up in a digital world.
‘When I’m Gone’ has sumptuous guitar sounds over a lovely tune and a song which again repeats the title beautifully and highlights the conflict that exists at home during lockdown compared with a daily walk along a nearby river “There I watch the osprey dive, Over and Over It’s never enough, A gentle curve, my feet obey, Around the bend I’m waltzed away, When I’m gone, Nothing’s wrong, When I’m gone”.
‘Ring Them Bells’ is inspired by the John Donne poem ‘For whom the bell tolls’ and was the song that drove the change in production sound, while the album closer ‘Deep in the Hollow’ explores the events that caused the breakup of her relationship and brings the ‘shift’ full circle.
Calve is a literary writer and her artist skills are demonstrated by the self-portrait on the album cover which she painted. She has a lot to offer and having explored her demons on this album the sophomore album will be an interesting challenge. In the meantime, ‘Shift’ is well worth exploring.