LAUREN LAPOINTE'S BACK STORY is tailor-made for a newspaper writer. It comes with a ready-made hook.
Back in 2001, the youthful Savannah resident was toiling away at an otherwise unnamed “office job,” and feeling restless. Watching her life go by one day at a time from behind a desk, Lapointe decided she could no longer go on without striving for success on a deeply personal level.
Filled with the desire to write, record and perform her own original music, she bravely allowed herself to imagine a world in which she spent her days composing songs rather than punching a time clock.
Within minutes, she had unexpectedly quit her job – determined to eke out a career in the notoriously difficult and competitive realm of showbiz. Now, over half a decade onward, she describes herself as being even more enthusiastic about that decision as the day she found herself making it.
“I wasn’t finding my day job to be very creatively fulfilling,” she recalls. “One Monday morning, it suddenly dawned on me that no one was forcing me to do this and that I had a choice. If I wasn’t happy, it was up to me to do something about it.”
The flaxen-haired singer and guitarist allows that her exit from the everyday workforce wasn’t nearly as dramatic as is perhaps envisioned by such a deliciously referenced anecdote, but that she did become a full-time musician much quicker than most.
“After I gave my notice, my employer asked me to stay on part-time,” she clarifies. “I hadn’t really considered that when I gave my notice, but it seemed like a good compromise. I worked part-time for about six months which definitely helped the transition. But otherwise, I have never regretted my change in careers.”
That steadfastness has served her well, as in the intervening years, this transplanted Canadian songbird (who name-checks both her homeland’s celebrated ethereal folk artist Loreena McKennitt and progressive Appalachian Old-Time revivalist Gillian Welch as key influences) has independently recorded and released three full albums. She has also made scores of important connections in the contemporary singer/songwriter movement through her increasingly busy touring schedule (she plays coffeehouses, cafes and folk society shows from here to the Midwest) and involvement in industry workshops.
Her brand-new CD, Butterfly, has been out for a couple of weeks now, but receives the royal “official release party” treatment this Saturday night at The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park – a venue that played a pivotal role both in shaping Lapointe’s stage persona and in helping her to build contacts and make important connections in the modern folk world.
Produced by critics’ darling Tom Prasada-Rao –himself a stellar musician and songwriter-- in his Dallas, Texas studio, it’s a well-crafted disc filled with solid instrumental performances from a small group of players, and relaxed vocal turns from Lapointe (whose vocals in particular have never sounded so assured on record).
“I met Tom at SummerSongs, the songwriting camp I attend every August in the Catskills,” Lapointe explains. “I e-mailed him a few months later and asked if he would produce my next album.” He immediately responded in the affirmative.
“I needed someone familiar with the singer/songwriter and folk scenes, but also comfortable working in other genres, since I had a diverse group of songs.”
Lapointe was also in search of someone who would be capable of bringing an idealized version of her own talent to the fore, rather than heavy-handedly imposing their own vision on her material.
“Tom has a reputation for instinctively understanding the heart of a song, plus the musicianship and technical skills to know how to bring it out,” she continues.
“His artists always feel the albums are completely ‘theirs’ when he’s done, rather than like a producer has taken over and changed their work. I definitely feel like this album is mine, and the feedback I’ve gotten from others to-date is that they feel like Butterfly is truly a reflection of ‘me.’ So Tom did indeed accomplish that!”
Based on a cursory examination of his own original material, Prasada-Rao’s influence on Butterfly is obvious. For example, at times, this collection of heartfelt love ballads, message songs and slyly humorous observations comes darn close to feeling downright funky, which is likely not a term many would use to describe Lapointe’s prior studio efforts. Certain tracks, such as the blues-derived “My Baby,” with its earnest acoustic guitar strums, loping, Stray Gator trap drums and interweaving harmonica fills bring to mind the sparse, earthy ruminations of her fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot (during his “Sundown”-era).
Lauren –who pokes fun at the dichotomy between her upbringing in the Great White North and her adult life in the deep South in the lighthearted ‘bonus’ track “Canadian Belle”— says that she expects listeners will “definitely hear” a strong Celtic vibe in her music, which she ascribes to her Eastern Canadian heritage. “However,” she adds, “I’ve also drawn on the legacy of southern storytellers like Bobbie Gentry and Lucinda Williams in my songwriting. The bluesy and rootsy stuff you hear in my songs come from the time I’ve spent here.”
Regardless of where her inspiration comes from, she channels those disparate touchstones into an easily digestible, reassuringly familiar style of calming, intensely personal and –at times— seemingly confessional first-person songwriting.
Lapointe admits that this collection of songs are all drawn from her own life.“This new album is a reflection of all of the experiences I have had since I recorded the previous one,” she says. “I’ve gigged extensively over the past several years and honed my skills as a songwriter, singer, performer, and guitarist.”Since 2005, that gigging (sometimes up to two weeks at a stretch) has taken her as far west as Texas and as far north as Michigan. “I’d have to look at a map, but I’m pretty sure Michigan is the farthest I’ve travelled from home,” she ruminates.
While there are scores of folks along that route who have been touched by the moods and emotions expressed in Lapointe’s straightforward, no frills approach to songwriting, there are some who may find her lyrical sensibilities a little too familiar, preferring a more adventurous or idiosyncratic tact. Yet, regardless of whether or not one finds her turns of phrase particularly compelling, the fourteen polished tracks on this album present an evolving artist in what is easily her most flattering light yet captured on disc.
“I don’t recall Tom having to coax anything,” Lapointe reflects, when asked to describe Butterfly’s recording process. “He just encouraged me to be myself and be comfortable. He didn’t care about technical perfection. He was more concerned with getting the right ‘vibe.’ He understands what it’s like to be primarily a live performer who’s trying to create a certain feeling in a studio with only microphones and equipment around for atmosphere. I engineered my last album myself, so it was really nice to just play and sing and not have to worry about all the details.”
Prasada-Rao as well has nothing but praise for the work the two did together.
“I’m proud of this album,” he reflects. “It feels like the best thing I’ve ever done as a producer/engineer. The fact this project went so quickly is a tribute to Lauren, her preparation, and her willingness to trust in the process. It was a joy to work on.”
Lapointe notes that unlike many of her contemporaries, who often juggle their artistic aspirations along with “straight” jobs, she has managed to support herself through her creative output alone. “I’m very fortunate that I can make a comfortable living playing music,” she muses.
In an effort to capitalize even further on this enviable position, she has decided to hire one or more independent radio promoters to push this new record to various markets in hopes of increasing her notoriety and thus the demand for her live gigs.
“I’m in the process of talking to different promoters now. It’s a big step – trying to determine how much to spend, what markets to target, etc...”
Although she had been approached by such “hype machines” in the past, Lapointe says it is only now, with this latest CD under her belt that she’s felt comfortable taking such a pricey plunge. However, she says, the time seems right to her. As for what the immediate future holds for the dedicated and driven performer, she plans on, well, more of the same.
“More gigging, touring, playing and writing,” the singer replies with a smile.
“One day at a time!”
Lauren Lapointe plays The Sentient Bean Saturday at 8 p.m. She’ll be accompanied by Kyle Shiver, James Gay and Treasure Camero. Free to all ages. To sample Butterfly:
The CD is available at: