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Laura Stevenson, ‘Wheel’ – Album Review

Don Giovanni Records

Singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson’s new album, ‘Wheel,’ sees this Long Island songstress shepherding her musical ambitions to new places. Along with her band, the Cans, Stevenson has managed to craft a well-produced set, with a much stronger vocal presence than heard on her first two full-lengths, ‘A Record’ and ‘Sit Resist.’

‘Wheel,’ Laura’s third studio effort, is an eclectic piece of work, one that mixes softer guitar- and string-based folk songs like opener ‘Renée’ with the very stripped-down ‘The Move’ and such extremely emotive rock songs as the soaring ‘Eleonora.’

Tracks like ‘Sink Swim’ and ‘Triangle’ are brimming with radio-pop sensibilities, and the latter is full of brooding yet extremely catchy vocals and guitar hooks. “I wouldn’t mind if you left me here, standing on the other side of a locked door in a big, big fire,” she sings. “There comes a time when you decide if you fight it off or learn to die / I’m fine.”

Stevenson isn’t afraid to dig deep with her music and lyrics. On the album’s title track and ‘L-Dopa,’ she uses her fervent vocals to reach in and scoop out big chunks of the listener’s intestines — regardless of the size of the accompanying guitar. Not that Stevenson is averse to a good old-fashioned rock song, as evidenced by ‘Bells and Whistles’ and the spine-tingling heights she reaches at the end of ‘Telluride.’

On this impressive album, guitar and voice matter most. We get a smattering of string and horns (Beirut’s Kelly Pratt plays all the brass) on tracks like ‘Every Tense’ and ‘The Wheel,’ respectively, but even so, this is a record where raw-sounding acoustic and electric guitars, blended with or contrasted against Stevenson’s vocals, alternately lift the sentiments behind the songs up to inspirational peaks and push them down into deep, introspective valleys, creating a sonic experience greater than the sum of its parts.

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