Laura Veirs has always been a stronger lyricist than she is a singer, guitar player, and bandleader: Her albums are loaded with more wordplay than you can shake a Roget's at. Though her folk-pop songs sometimes tread dangerously close to sad-girl-with-a-guitar territory, they're inevitably buoyed by shimmering instrumentation and ethereal delivery. Her last album, 2005's excellent Year Of Meteors, was a great leap forward, as she and her unfortunately named backing band, The Tortured Souls, finally gelled, creating consistently tight, tasteful arrangements that never wallowed in their own introspection.
The Tortured Souls are have come to their senses and are now called Saltbreakers, but the chemistry remains on Veirs' new Saltbreakers. Continuing Meteors' affinity for lush, catchy riffs, Saltbreakers' music-to-lyrics quality ratio is nearly perfect, consistently balancing Veirs' ocean-centric storytelling with the textured production of drummer Tucker Martine, a longtime Veirs collaborator and the man behind The Decemberists' The Crane Wife. Where Meteors occasionally suffered awkward shifts between sparse minimalism and a lush full-band sound, Saltbreakers is nicely fleshed out, covering an impressive range of mood and style while remaining a cohesive exposition.
Saltbreakers also sees Veirs venturing further sonically, experimenting with male backup vocals (courtesy of her band on "Saltbreakers"), choir arrangements (on the lovely "To The Country"), and subtle horns (on the album standout "The Wandering Kind."). These elements add new layers to Veirs' established sound, while retaining her trademark intimate feel. The only minor stumble is the reverb-laden track "Phantom Mountain," which, in spite of a catchy grunge-guitar hook, is jarring amid the unrelenting gentleness of the rest of the album. Nevertheless, Saltbreakers is exceptionally strong, and it shows Veirs has more than just poetic whimsy up her sleeve.