Laurel Premo “Golden Loam”

I’ve lost count of how many wonderful guitar records there have been this year, but as we barrel to the end of 2021, the hits keep coming. Most striking is the breadth of styles, sounds, and emotions artists are bringing to the fold and Premo adds another pyre to the collection with the worldwide electric roots of Golden Loam. Premo’s not just a fantastic guitarist, though, she’s just as accomplished as a fiddler (check out this wonderful performance with Jake Blount) and that spirit permeates Golden Loam.

Premo has a gentle touch that conveys a well of strength and feeling. Across these 10 tracks, an intimacy emerges from early morning fog, split between the tree boughs and creek beds. “On My Way to See Nancy,” adapted from West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons, her guitar arrangement hums along, following the discrete winding paths through dense forests, a million miles from any city or town. The same spirit burns through “Jake’s Got a Bellyache” – another Edden Hammons adaptation – though the sky is darker and fires have appeared in the distance. Premo imbues these songs with a modern edge even if the heart of them remains ageless.

Golden Loam also features three originals, though, like Myriam Gendron’s original songs on Ma délire, Premo’s pieces could have been written 100 years ago. They’re timeless. Aided by bones player Eric Breton on “Jericho,” Premo runs scales and chord changes digging into some soil-soaked blues. The brimstone is howling in the distorted hue of her guitar. “Father Made of River Mud” is more contemplative, ripped from centuries-old hymnals as it considers the slow movements dragging us down.

It’s in the quietest moments, though, that Golden Loam glows brightest. “I Am A Pilgrim,” one of the only songs Premo sings on, absolutely shines in its tender progression. The song is a perfect microcosm of what makes Golden Loam so memorable as Premo combines multiple threads from across history, from gospel hymns to Sacred Harp music to The Carter Family and her own additions, bringing all these strains into a single beam of light. Warmth swirls from Premo’s guitar and voice, filling the air with the familiar smell of home and lighting out a way to someplace safe. 

“Torbjørn Bjellands Bruremarsj,” a beguiling Norwegian wedding march, sits in a similar space as “I Am A Pilgrim” and holds out a forgiving hand to the weary. These sweet moments are rife with stillness while solemn emotions hang gingerly in the air. Premo never shies away from any of it, though, bringing a visceral realness to Golden Loam that sets the album deep into the soil and burgeons new growth.

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