The sophomore full length album from Andriana Lehr, Artifacts, is the successor to her well-received 2013 debut Try to Be True. In the intervening three years since the release of her first album, Lehr has established herself as one of the most promising musical talents in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul music scene and her countless hours spent gigging and surrounded by other top flight musicians has exerted a noticeable effect over her performances and songwriting alike. The debut proved that this was a prodigious talent in the making; Artifacts, however, takes that a step further by hinting at the possibility that Lehr might be one of the brightest musical lights of her generation and capable of picking up the torch from her influences like Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlisle. The ten song collection was recorded and produced in the Minneapolis area, but there isn’t a single particle of regionalism on this album. Instead, this is a top flight professional product on every level and, as a result, a living breathing work of art.
It solidifies such claims with the first song. “Outrun the Change” has one of the album’s best vocal melodies, lively and buoyant, and the moody backing provides a compelling counterpoint to her singing. Steve Goold and David Goodstein distinguish themselves throughout this release thanks to their intensely sympathetic drumming, but it’s Goold’s jazzy touches that stand out most here and give the song a percolating feel. Goodstein’s playing takes a much more straight ahead approach on tracks like “Ashes in the Fog”, a track that nominally recalls the opener in certain respects, but has a much more elegiac, restrained melody in comparison. The pairing of Ken Wilson’s dobro and Cory Grossman’s cello on the song sets it apart just a little more and works marvelously. Goold’s jazzy percussion returns on the song “Catch 22”, but that little extra step he gives to the rhythm isn’t enough to entirely divorce the song from its roots in country music. The brisk pace doesn’t curtail Lehr’s ability to deliver the lyrics in any way.
“Halfway Home” takes the surprising classical overtones heard on earlier songs and expands on them without ever getting too far away from the singer/songwriter beating throughout the track list. Lehr’s aching vocals are never rushed and the great care she takes with her phrasing makes this song all the more memorable. “Putting Up A Fight” is the album’s only outright recognizable ballad, but it isn’t a time for Lehr to lay on the schmaltz and make some ill-advised attempt for commercial attention. Instead, this is a beautifully ornate piece that still has a lot of color and never feels overly plotted out. “Streets of Saint Paul” has a folk singer’s heart, but there’s some of those aforementioned country and classical music influenced sounds seeping through a deceptively simple musical attack. The album’s final, “The Expansion of Everything”, continues along those lines with a patient and well-rounded closer that makes some attempt at examining what’s come before while still saying something new. Much of Artifacts is engrossed in looking at the transitions we all experience in life with a generosity of spirit and, certainly, a fair amount of regret. It is notable, however, that she concludes her collection with a song that uses the word expansion in its title – Lehr’s creative vision has certainly expanded and few singer/songwriters have such a bright future in front of them.
9 out of 10 stars