Mostly a solo guitar venture, Laurel Premo’s new album Golden Loam is an austere set compared to 2019’s The Iron Trios, which highlighted the Michigan-based artist’s multi-instrumental prowess and skills as a collaborator. While Premo’s latest release underscores her talents for arrangement and composition, listeners may find themselves wishing for more substantial stylistic variations and missing the lively interplays of her previous work.
“Calloway” features a delicate and engaging melody, Premo’s tone crystalline and resonant. As the piece progresses, Premo plays with more urgency and volume, returning toward the end of the cut to reiterate the minimal elegance of the opening. The take epitomizes Golden Loam’s style, Premo eschewing ostentatiousness, instead integrating a sultry rhythm and dreamy progressions.
With “On My Way to See Nancy,” Premo executes a sleek slide part, ranging from wispy intonations to insistent mini-crescendos. “Jericho” offers a percussive tunefulness, Eric Breton’s shaker adding a raspy beat to the mix while occasionally sounding a bit random or arbitrary.
It’s unfortunate that Premo doesn’t sing more on Golden Loam, as her smooth yet intriguingly tense vocals on the bluesy “Hop High” and melancholy articulations on “I Am a Pilgrim” constitute some of the high points of the sequence. On “Ma’s Maw,” she wends through a series of particularly alluring dynamics — quiet to loud, clean to crunchy, sparse to, well, not as sparse — while also intermittently recycling sounds and structures that have been adequately expressed on previous tracks. With the closer, “Father Made of River Mud,” Premo experiments with a varying tempo and subtle discordancies, offering the most ambient/atmospheric piece on the album.
Again, it’s striking that Premo doesn’t sing more on Golden Loam, as she possesses a distinctly evocative voice. A couple additional vocals as well as a fiddle part or two would have put less sustained focus on her guitar work, which is alternately impressive and repetitive. That said, Golden Loam, recorded during the COVID epoch, includes its share of hook-y, lilting, and haunting moments, Premo’s commentary on the loneliness and disconnection we all endured and from which we’re now, hopefully, beginning to recover.