image © Decca Records 2009
click on image for Laura's MySpace
photo © Heidi Ross 2011
(24 April 2011) Laura Jansen's 2009 ten-track album Bells (Decca Records (USA), B0015281-02, 2009) has been released in North America. The stunning 30-something Dutch-American singer songwriter relocated to Los Angeles at age 23 about ten years ago. She released her work on two six-track EPs, one entitled "Trauma" in 2007, and the other with entitled "Single Girl" in 2009. The two EPs were released as together Bells earlier in Holland. In March 2011, the album was released in the USA. The singer is known for the crystalline clarity of her voice, tender ballads and catchy pop-oriented songs.
Bells, according to the artist's own biography, is a dreamy collection of piano-driven alt-pop songs. The album has already gone platinum in Holland, propelled by "Single Girls" and a stunning cover of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," which spent more than a year lodged in the Top 10 on the Dutch singles chart. In the USA, Jansen is a fixture in the constellation of artists associated with Los Angeles nightclub The Hotel Café—a musical haven, creative incubator, and ultimately, national launching pad for such confessional-minded artists as Sara Bareilles, Priscilla Ahn, and Joshua Radin, whom Jansen toured with in 2008 and will hit the road with again in 2011.
From her online biography, Laura was born in Breda, Holland, to a Dutch father and an American mother, Jansen began playing piano at age five while the family lived in Brussels, followed by Zurich and Connecticut. "Because of all the moving we did, the piano has always been my constant," she says. Jansen fell in love with classical music, Queen, Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, and the Brazilian protest music her mother loved. In high school, she sang in the choir and performed in musicals. Passionate about politics, Jansen worked at the UN in Geneva and studied political science in college, but backed away after a good friend, a human-rights activist, was killed in Africa. "It made me not want to return to that world because it felt futile," she says, "and music was my solace; the place I went when I didn't understand the world."
Laura spent two years at a music conservatory in Holland, and earned valuable performing experience as a wedding singer, before transferring to Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music with a scholarship. After graduating, she made good on a long-held fantasy of moving to Nashville to become a songwriter, but froze from intimidation once she got there. "I ended up working in retail and waiting on women like Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin and wishing I could say something to them," she says. "I couldn’t find my voice." She clearly found her voice for the two EPs that led to Bells and its European and American releases.
The album opens with a torch ballad sung as a gently performed pop number called "The End." The lovely melody showcases the crystalline texture of her voice and backing harmonies add depth. Light arrangements perfectly showcase the singer's talent. The title track is more sparsely arranged and brings Laura's evocative voice to the fore clearly highlighting her virtuosity. It is clear why the tender ballad "Single Girls" was featured on Laura's recent EP. She sings the lyrics over a percussive piano melody that is joined by lovely string washes.
The playful, ragtime-esque "Wicked World" urges listeners to uncurl from the fetal position, grab some friends, and go have some fun. "That song is about how it's time to go out and meet some men. It’s time to do some drinking, because being depressed is getting old," Jansen says. "It came out of the realization that little girls are raised on fairy tales. We are expected to be married and have babies. Those rules do not apply where I live. LA is its own little circus." On "The End," Jansen comes to terms with a relationship's conclusion by realizing that there’s no blame to be placed. "It's when you finally say, 'We can't fix this. We're just going around in circles and I need peace," she says. "I sing that song with a smile, because the turmoil is over."
The highly memorable ballad "Perfect" features Jansen's voice at its clearest atop gentle arrangements. In contrast, on the catchy pop sound of "Soljah" is reminscent vocally and stylistically of Theresa Andersson's earlier work. Laura's album continues to build strength with softly arranged ballads with her cover of "Use Somebody." "Come To Me" is a light Sunday morning coffee house number also sung breezily atop light pop arrangements. Butterfly Boucher (Conjure One) adds harmony vocals.
Laura Jansen (vocals, piano, mellotron, glockenspiel, keyboard) is joined on the six tracks "Single Girl," "Perfect," "Come To Me," "The End," "Wicked Wind," and "Use Somebody" by: Ben Peeler (guitars, lap and pedal steel, mandolin, guzheng); Blair Sinta (drums, percussion); Bill Lefler (guitars, banjo, percussion, keys, programming); Butterfly Boucher (vocals on "Come To Me"); Gary Brothers (vocals on "Perfect" and "Come To Me"); Jittekke (cello); Jon Titterington (trumpet); Joseph Karnes (bass); and Jason Kanakis (guitars). On Solijah, "Elijah," "Signal" and "Bells", Laura (vocals, piano, keyboard) is joined by: Joel Shearer (guitar); Ben Peeler (lap steel and guitar on "Elijah"); Joseph Karnes (bass); Stephen Nistor (drums) and Bill Lefler (drums, percussion, keyboards and programming).
"Elijah" is clearly the album's standout track. An upbeat and powerful pop-oriented song, it illlustrates the power of Laura Jansen's solo voice atop thicker arrangements and is joined choir textures. The album concludes with the whispy ballad "Signal" complete with Morse code-sounding effects joining Laura's singing and gentle piano arrangement.
While Laura Jansen's EPs provided an appetizer for her American audiences, her debut album Bells has arrived.
Clearly Laura is a singer songwriter with a bright future and her 2011 tour will serve to introduce her work to a broader audience than she has achieved in Los Angeles.