Empire Builder is singer-songwriter Laura Gibson‘s first new release after the critically acclaimed 2012 record La Grande. It’s a lovely album to listen to, even if somewhat downbeat. Laura Gibson thrives in her comfort zone and delivers a record full of emotion and honesty.

‘Empire Builder’ by Laura Gibson Album Review

Gibson’s gentle folksy vocals make Empire Builder a lovely listen even if it is not the most upbeat record. The crackling texture of her voice delivers the raw tenderness and sadness of the lyrics. Nevertheless, there is never a sense of self-pity. As a storyteller, Gibson relies on easy-going narrative with a hint of lyricism, which is enhanced by the music. Songs like “Five and Thirty” and “The Search For Dark Lake” are particularly poetic whereas others like “Not Harmless” and closer “The Last One” strike with particular forthrightness and simplicity. Both approaches are equally successful and provide some lyrical variety, even though melodically, the album remains rather monotonous in its suspended spectral quality.

Much of the inspiration for this album seems rooted in the past. The singer lost her apartment and most of her possessions, including lyrics and instruments, in a gas explosion not that long ago, which forced her to rebuild her life from scratch. This loss and the despair that inevitably must have followed make up the backbone of Empire Builder. In that sense, the title of the record is highly symbolic too. Despite the overbearing sense of isolation and bafflement, there is underneath all that a look forward to the uncertain future, which holds the possibility for a new beginning. The pensive, melancholic atmosphere hints at this process of recovery in spite of the inability to comprehend and accept the loss at this point.

Empire Builder may not be everyone’s cup of tea. With the exception of the slightly more upbeat “Two Kids,” the record centers around mellow tunes and brooding vocals, which are lovely and beautiful enough to listen to even if ultimately somewhat repetitive as the album progresses. The album’s unique value, however, lies in the genuine delivery of emotion and in the potential of turning this pervasive melancholy into something worthwhile. Ultimately, Gibson’s return on Empire Builder is an indication of strength – newfound liberation and confidence with a tentative look towards a better future.

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