“It has been a thrill for several years now to know and watch Gaelynn Lea go from violin player to singer/songwriter and sonic innovator to now producer and bandleader. Her talent and zeal for life has been the anchor all along and “Learning How to Stay” is her arrival as a full and great American artist.” – Alan Sparhawk (LOW)
Until this point Gaelynn Lea has presented most of her songs using only a few tools: a violin, a voice, and a looping pedal. But for her latest, Gaelynn Lea enlisted the help of some musical friends to bring her new album to life. Several of Minnesota’s heavy-hitters—including Al Church, Dave Mehling, Martin Dosh, Andrew Foreman and Alan Sparhawk—lent their creative influence and musicality to this recording. The result is a powerfully emotive effort of confidence and purpose which captures the poignancy and presence of Gaelynn Lea’s crafted repertoire.
Her newest album, Learning How To Stay, is an 11-song collection that runs the gamut sonically from pensive and luscious to aggressive and intentioned, from folk to decidedly pop, and even includes a couple of traditional fiddle tunes. Undoubtedly the connecting thread of this album is Gaelynn Lea herself. With her singular voice and deeply-affecting violin, she guides the listener through a journey that explores the contrasting nature of existence: dark and light, birth and death, anger and forgiveness, sorrow and joy. Learning How to Stay encourages the listener to stay present for it all.
The album opens with a droning cascade of strings and a lone piano setting the tone on “Bound By a Thread,” then abruptly shifts to the bright country twang of guitars through a lesson of literal biology and figurative heart on “Dark to Light and Dark Again.” This contrast is indicative of the record as a complete thought, presenting the listener with an ever-widening spectrum of themes and musical moods. The sparse indie-rock vibe of “I See It Too” is then juxtaposed with the Celtic-like pastoral build of the instrumental, “Jim and Judy’s Wedding” (Larry Unger).
Mid-tempo grooves are broken down and piled back up on both “Lost in the Woods” and the backstreet rocker “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun”. Carefully, patiently, the music unfolds with a myriad of tasteful choices: a Hammond B-3 organ harmonizing briefly with the heartbreak vocal of “The Last Three Feet;” the polyrhythmic art rock sensibility and sheets of violin coursing through “I Wait.”
Bright, bare minimalism adorns the Irish-tinged original “Grace and a Tender Hand,” while a foreboding darkness inhabits the Finnish traditional instrumental, “Metsakukkia”. This genre-defying album winds down with some welcomed serenity during the ballad “Moment of Bliss”, which is a fitting end to this emotionally satisfying listening experience.
ALL THE ROADS THAT LEAD US HOME
“Gaelynn Lea has done it exactly right on her debut solo album, ‘All the Roads that Lead Us Home‘. The album is constructed simply — most of it is Lea playing her violin into an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man pedal, building layers one by one of her striking, tremulous playing.
Lea takes a meditative approach, building loops that are based on sustained notes and vibrato, loops that seem like she’s scoring a sunrise on a winter morning. Yearning, reaching melodies emerge from the wash of sound and then recede into the background. Chords are flittingly outlined as root notes collide with thirds or fifths or sevenths. It’s all very ephemeral and gauzy, and the tracks are easy to get lost in.
Lea’s two vocal tracks are nicely placed on the record. Her folky singing is of a piece with her playing, and it’s not jarring at all when it comes in, even though it’s the only other instrument on the album next to the violin.
‘All the Roads that Lead Us Home’ is a focused, vibrant piece of music by a person who is able to take a solitary instrument and make it sound like a full string arrangement, who can fill a full-length LP with mostly just those sounds and communicate fluently her heart and soul with only a few tools.”
– Tony Bennett, Duluth News Tribune
THE SONGS WE SING ALONG THE WAY
“Lea’s latest release ‘The Songs We Sing Along the Way‘ is a collection of simple, spare songs that depend mostly on Lea’s often-mournful fiddle and sweet -yet-weathered voice. Lea focuses on alternating between instrumentals and vocal numbers, taking her time with each, patiently letting them unfurl.
She’s got a real knack for a lyric that has some bite to it — and she also makes suggestions for course-correction in her music. Lea is gentle in spirit, yet she’s unafraid to take a stance. That’s a balance that many get wrong.
Lea’s song ‘Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun’ is the centerpiece of this collection. It’s a truly gorgeous, heartbreaking song, and it attracted attention from NPR for good reason. And, while it’s definitely the standout, this isn’t to say that the other traditional fiddle tunes and originals that surround it on the EP aren’t worth the time. Indeed, the whole thing is quite impressive.
Once again, Lea proves she’s a powerful craftswoman, a spellbinding singer and a violinist with a solid understanding of how to conjure a mood.
– Tony Bennett, Duluth News Tribune
DEEPEST DARKNESS, BRIGHTEST DAWN
“‘Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn‘ is a 14-song album that is mainly made up of Lea’s violin, with her voice appearing only briefly here and there. The record as a whole feels unified, almost as if it’s one long Christmas medley that Lea sings over when the spirit strikes her.
On each track, Lea makes her violin sing in traditional and nontraditional ways. It’s always gorgeous though. Her pitch is great, and her vibrato is, too. She’s able to loop seamlessly for optimum spell-casting. As usual, Lea’s vocals sound great and uniquely her own. Her singing is a match for her violin playing in the way it trembles and lilts.
‘Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn’ is a lovely piece of ambient Christmas music that shares a lot in common with traditional orchestra holiday music while also being its own entity. Indeed, Gaelynn Lea’s Christmas album might be the ultimate soundtrack for getting cozy this winter.”
-Tony Bennett , Duluth News Tribune
GAELYNN LEA APPAREL AND ACCESSORIES
Promote independent music and support small business by ordering a Gaelynn Lea shirt, tote bag, or glass ornament! Gaelynn Lea has teamed up with I Work & Play in Des Moines, where you can order her musically-inspired clothing & fun accessories on a safe and secure online storefront! I Work & Play is a direct-to-garment specialty printing company owned by music enthusiast John Bartlett. All t-shirts and tote bags are Union printed and made in the USA. The art is inspired by the work of Duluth-based graphic design company Stigsell Creative. Order online here!
GAELYNN LEA’S OTHER ALBUMS
Over the years Gaelynn Lea has collaborated with a number of musical projects who have produced their own distinct recordings. You can purchase two of these albums at the links below:
- The Murder of Crows – Imperfecta EP (2012): Download from Bandcamp or iTunes
- The Getarounds – Live EP (2013): Download from Bandcamp