It feels like it’s been entirely too long since Alanna Gurr released an album, though it’s really just been two-and-a-half years. Oh Horsefeathers was and still is stunning, and for this new album she has a backing band, The Greatest State, who add a bit more texture to her minimalist roots-folk music.
Which isn’t to say that Gurr has suddenly gone rock and roll or anything. Her choice of instrumentation is still sparing, allowing the listener to absorb every little bit of what makes her music so special. Her vocals remain as pleasing as ever, at times reminiscent of Beatrice Martin, particularly in the love song “By My Side.”
Her sparse arrangements now include the wail of pedal steel (really the hallmark of a good roots record), some subtle bass, and church-like organ. Even when all the instruments are playing at once, her songs still retain their quiet nature, and Late at Night could not be a better way to describe the time of the day these songs seem to fit.
At her quietest, Gurr has songs like “Hell or High Water,” a very simple love song with little more than pedal steel and guitar as she sings “I will walk through hell and high water for you, babe.” Then there’s the sparse “Weight of Love” which begins with some pretty acoustic guitar and Gurr’s vocals before adding in the pedal steel and bass.
It could just be because of the heavy organ, but “Swimmer” is an absolutely pristine album opener. It’s perhaps Gurr’s best vocal performance to date, expressing feelings of wanting to just get away, but also accepting changes as they roll around. Equally excellent is a bit of a departure for Gurr, the song “Golden Coast.” Given the hellish winter that North America has experienced, this is the perfect song to get one in the mood for summer. The warm guitar chords might make you envision a warm beach, and the simple phrase “I’m goin’ down to the golden coast” will make everyone wish they could do just that.
“It’s Been a Long Time” and “Trouble” are a few hints at darkness, with a greater reliance on bass and booming drums, respectively. Finally, “Thunder Rolls” doesn’t explode like a thunderclap (for that would betray The Greatest State’s sound) but it does succeed at a slow build, beginning only with Gurr’s vocals and very, very quiet guitar before ending with pedal steel, bass, drums and more. And then the quiet night is at an end.
Top Tracks: “Swimmer”; “Golden Coast”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)