The greatest fear of any artist who has a tender relationship with volume is being talked over. All hopes of bedroom intimacy are mercilessly stripped away in a live setting, where the noises from the bar, and the ubiquitous loudmouth drunk, can smother a quiet performer's best intentions. It would then seem that Laura Gibson—whose homespun folk music is woven with the softest delicacy—might be the ideal victim of losing songs to a talkative audience, yet no matter how difficult the setting, it's seldom the case. This is because Gibson's wholesome folk music is as trusting as a pie left to cool on an open windowsill, and to take advantage of such faith would be a karmic disaster of epic proportions. Besides, Gibson has experience performing in difficult settings.
"When I moved to Portland, I had this idea of playing for people who are sick or dying," Gibson explains. "I met a woman who worked at Our House of Portland [a residential care facility for those with advanced HIV/AIDS], I went to visit, and it's such a special community of people. I did that for two years and a lot of times I was just sitting on the smoking porch with a couple people and playing songs. Sometimes if no one really wanted to hear me sing, I'd wash dishes."
Gibson's saintly outreach (she did the dishes!) isn't normally press fodder—in fact, when asked about it, her response was reserved—it's just her idea of what musicians are supposed to do. As she explains, "I just didn't have intentions of playing shows in clubs. I thought this would be informal music therapy."
The product of a rural upbringing in the timber town of Coquille, Oregon, Gibson couldn't have been more of an outsider to popular music. Every musician has an individual path they travel down in order to reach their destination on the stage—whether it be a cooler older sibling, high school band, discovering the Clash at a young age—but Gibson's path seems entirely accidental. Shortly following her musical therapy sessions on the Our House smoking porch, she was swallowed whole by a community of local musicians—the majority of whom are in the Hush Records rotation—who took her in and never really let her go. Her latest recording for Hush, the stark and beautiful Beasts of Seasons, is the work of Gibson and a staggering lineup of 16 local musicians (members range from Menomena to Norfolk & Western) who guide her, but never interfere with her distinct vision for the album.
Beasts is split between "Communion Songs," and "Funeral Songs," two distinct sections of music meant to be listened to as a whole. "I really love records that start in a certain place, but you feel like you end up in another place by the end of the record. I wanted it to have that feel."
Loyal to its title, "Communion Songs" is softly spiritual, with songs that, as Gibson best explains it, "reach out to connect with something other than yourself." The latter half, "Funeral Songs," isn't compiled of head-hanging dirges, but instead deals with the frail nature of life and the certainty of our final act. Either would function properly as its own work, but together they masterfully come together, making Beasts an arduous listen that rewards those who hang on every mellifluous word she sings. To delve this deep into someone's music is an act of trust, but with Gibson, it's a risk worth taking.