In 2016, we embarked on our first tour of Canada. The whole idea materialised slowly; hours spent in front of a computer searching for venues and opportunities with a lot of emails sent out into the void. We leapt at the gig offers we got despite the itinerary not making much logical sense. But an eight hour drive didn’t seem like a big deal when it was over sprawling prairies and through epic mountain ranges.
Just before we left for the trip, I saw an article in The Guardian about a concept called ‘cosmic Americana’, which included artists such as William Tyler, John Fahey and The Weather Station. Given the landscapes we would be driving across, the timing of this article seemed somewhat serendipitous so I bought a couple of albums off Bandcamp with this general vibe to take with us.
The landscapes of North America and that kind of music sit well together. There’s a sense of musical space and rawness in the tracks which mirror the geography and wildness of so much of the land. It makes me imagine long drives to dusty basement studios in the middle of nowhere, or a café stop a few days into a tour. Living in the UK, which has every yard accounted for and is pretty compact, I find that this music transports me to an America that may not really exist outside of the imagination but is, nevertheless, a powerful and appealing romance.
The intangible essence of ‘cosmic Americana’ manifests in a beautiful song I stumbled upon recently. ‘The Panther‘ by Portland-based artist Laura Veirs is a musical setting of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a delicate and wistful song backed by fingerpicked, chiming electric guitar. The upward moving chords and gently lulling rhythm convey a yearning for some kind of escape but, continually, the music circles back on itself to the same phrase, echoing the panther ‘pacing in cramped circles’. The music is perpetually hopeful but tinged with sadness and resignation.
I really admired the artist’s unconventional approach to the multi-layered vocal performance. The same line or phrase often lands apart from its double, giving the words an extra resonance. Harmonies glide in and out, shifting the texture of the music from the confines of the room in which the song was recorded to a more expansive landscape.
Listening to this song has been a beautiful, escapist experience at a time of unprecedented confinement. There is also a beautiful ukulele-based setting of the same lyrics which is worth listening to on its own merits. We’ve added it to the ‘Sandtimer Selects’ playlist which is embedded below.
P.S. The beautiful artwork for the release is by Portland-based artist Anisa Makhoul.