All the stars seem to be in line for California-based folk songstress Lauren Shera upon the release of her second full-length, Once I Was a Bird. Whether it’s the ever-growing list of magazine and radio appearances, wildly successful festival appearances such as Bonnaroo, or her list of friends and collaborators, including folk institution Abigail Washburn, Shera seems bound to succeed. Unlike a lot of cyber-hyped musicians, though, Shera definitely has the talent to back the attention, and Once I Was a Bird is a masterful demonstration of said ability.
Interestingly, the album’s biggest strength and its most wearisome weakness both stem from Shera’s voice. While her characteristic quivering pipes deliver her poetic lyrics with absolute conviction, her sometimes haphazard vibrato tends to detract from the otherwise clean, tight arrangements. A notable example of this is “Another Season”, where the attempted harmonized vocals come up short because of the lack of held notes. That being said, Shera’s performance on album standouts such as “Storyteller” and “Once I Was a Bird” more than compensates for these low moments.
A broad mix of instruments, including horns, strings, and sporadic clawhammer banjo appearances by Washburn, bring each track to life, with even the stripped-down tracks featuring rich chimes and flutes. The vibrant combinations of instruments prevent Bird from feeling washed up, and when paired alongside Shera’s mournful vocals, the two seamlessly come together to create a special, fresh spin on classic folk.
On aforementioned “Storyteller”, Shera vows, “No I don’t plan on staying very long.” Taking into consideration how excellent of a listen Once I Was a Bird is and just how talented Shera proves herself to be through its artful musical arrangements and compelling narrative lyricism, one can’t help but hope that that’s not the case.