Laura Kemp
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Laura Kemp


Band Folk Acoustic


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Performer extraordinaire, Laura Kemp (has the) ability to make an audience chuckle, tear up, and feel an instant connection with her lyrics - all in the course of one song.
- San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Spring, 2004"

I suspect I have already exhausted my supply of superlatives in describing Laura Kemp's music over the past decade, and in the process have violated, many times, my current policy of not using comparative terms when assessing artistic merit. Nevertheless, what I wrote about her first CD, Volcano (1994), in an early Talking Leaves, still seems just as true to me today:
"Laura Kemp...has more talent as a singer-songwriter-musician than most nationally recognized recording artists, and Volcano is a better album than the vast majority of those I have heard, regardless of musical genre....It is fortunate for Eugeneans that her work has not yet been spoiled by commercialization....[She is] a keen observer of the human condition, splendidly gifted at transforming life into art through music, and helping others share in the experience."
Since then, with two more equally accomplished CDs, Corduroy (1997) and Alone (2000), and regular live appearances, she has continued to be arguably the most consistently well-loved performer on Eugene's folk singer-songwriter scene, winning a variety of honors including "Favorite Female Musician" virtually every year in Eugene Weekly's readers' poll. In a variety of configurations--with the Laura Kemp Band, Babes With Axes, Kemp-Kelley-Wakefield, in various duos, in songwriters-in-the-round appearances, and solo--she has used her beautiful voice, adept acoustic guitar work, harmonica, and occasional dobro or other instrument to bring a steady supply of fresh songs to audiences in Eugene and throughout the region. Many of us regular fans are familiar with at least two to three albums' worth of as yet unrecorded material by Laura, some of which her guitar students (including me) have learned to play even without any recordings to imitate.
Laura's eagerly anticipated new CD, May, goes a long way toward filling in the gaps in her recorded repertoire. But it does much more than that. A skillfully and beautifully assembled song cycle, it presents a cohesive whole, and sets a new standard for a Rain Water Records album. It surpasses even Laura's fine previous recordings in the quality of the performances, the depth and range of emotion and experience conveyed, the beauty and power of the music.
Laura's concerts never fail to be moving, satisfying, grounding experiences for me, reminding me of much of what's most important in my life. To achieve that effect on a CD is an ambitious feat, but Laura and her well-chosen array of guest musicians have accomplished it here. This disc preserves the immediacy and inspiration of Laura's songs while also reflecting a care and attention to musical detail likely to generate ongoing, lasting pleasure in even the most discriminating of listeners.
Some tracks, like "Sword Ferns and Salmonberries," are beautiful in the simplicity of the arrangement (just voice and banjo); others, like "Snow Returns," are intoxicating in the rich tapestry of sounds they weave from multiple instruments. Nearly all of the songs have something to do with land, the seasons, and/or weather, as well as with such themes as love, gardening, relationship, and personal feelings and choices.
Though I have never been to the specific place it describes, the wistful, haunting "Hannah Branch" evokes in me memories of many places I have loved and left. Sounding like an old-fashioned hoedown, the bluegrassy "In Time" celebrates surrender and transformation. "Rootless Way," a favorite in Laura's set list for ten years now, contemplates the roads that take many of us away from one another, in this culture and time in which geographic separation from friends and family can be the norm rather than the exception. "May," a song from Alone recorded here in a new arrangement, explores the emotional territory of many non-parents' perennial question: whether to remain childless when the desire to have a baby can be so strong. A bittersweet, evocative "Cold Comfort" shares the pain and paradox of a relationship that has gone sour. It serves as a reminder that we are all capable of being in the emotional and spiritual "pits," and (as the rest of the album proves) emerging to see the beauty even in that journey into darkness.
The upbeat "Love and Soil" follows, bringing together love of gardening and love of a person and distilling two complex arts into their essences: a willingness to embrace life. The funky, humorous, and touching "T.V. Song" should convince anyone to at least consider what home could be like without a T.V. set. The gently driving "Snow Returns" mixes some of the nostalgia of "Hannah Branch" with separation from a lover and the knowledge that "spring will bring on changes new." Like "Love and Soil," "Sword Ferns and Salmonberries" is inspired by the earth and by love. A cover of Kate Wolf's "The Lilac and the Apple" closes the album on a note similar to that which opened it--reflecting on the passage of time, changes, and the perennial presence of the land, whose readiness to n - Talking Leaves

"July/Aug. 2005"

The sun-touched folk songs on Laura Kemp's May are as clear and cool as rainwater. This is unadulterated acoustic folk. Though the country/bluegrass flavor is enhanced by some great mandolin playing by Steve Smith as well as some nice banjo, dobro and fiddle work, there is also something in Kemp's melodies and voice that lend a touch of twang to the mix. This gives the record a magnetic blend of classic American folk with Southern Americana, the result sounding like a mix of Joan Baez and Shawn Colvin or Joni Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Kemp's warm voice and agile melodies help this all along. Then there's the highlight track "Sword Ferns and Salmonberries," which sounds like an Appalachian Civil War ballad. It's an anomaly on this record, the most hillbilly and least sweeping of the tunes, but it somehow glues the whole lovely package together. - CS - Performing Songwriter

"Spring 2005"

A hint of Kate Wolf infuses Laura Kemp's music...though I would hasten to add that Kemp is not a derivative of Wolf. While she ends this recording with an appealing version of Wolf's "The Lilac and the Apple," with only guitar and harmonica accompaniment, the phrasing is very different from Wolf's. Kemp co-produced the CD with her engineer Tony Kaltenberg creating dynamite sound from fiddle, mandolin, bass, Dobro, and banjo in various combinations. She accompanies herself on guitar on all but one of the ten tracks, with an occasional harmonica part. There is something organically alive about this recording. Kemp sings with a beautiful, assured voice that knows where it's going. She knows which words she wants you to heed. She knows how to turn a phrase. Most of the nine original songs here contain a bit of the earth, nature and the seasons. Thus song titles such as "May," "Love and Soil," "Snow Returns" and "Sword Ferns and Salmonberries." Of course, some of them also sing about love of place and people, present and past. Her one overtly political piece is "T.V. Song" that relates how much better life is without a TV. She questions if she would be playing guitar had she grown up with a TV, which was forbidden in her home. May appeals to the ear as much as the intellect, and Laura Kemp creates a delightfully attractive sound. - RWarr - Sing Out!


Bodhi Tree - (2010), Recorded in Nashville, TN and produced by Nomad Ovunc, with Will Kimbrough on guitars, Fats Kaplin on accordian, David Henry on cello as well as other fine session players.

May - (2004), there is an acoustic bluegrass feel to this album, featuring Steve Smith on mandolin, Sally VanMeter on dobro, Roy Brewer on fiddle, and more!.

Alone - (2000), a six song CD featuring Laura in a completely solo setting; just her voice, guitar, and harmonica. Raw and intimate.

Corduroy - (1997), features drummer/percussionist Brian West (formerly of The Daddies), T.R. Kelley on fretted, and fretless bass, Brian Price on violin, and more.

Volcano - (1994), featuring members of the Little Big Band, Jeff Martin and Jack Springett on bass and drums, Gregg Biller on acoustic and electric mandolin and guitar, and others.

I Hope They Like the Rain - (1992), early solo recording on cassette.

Live Axe - with Babes With Axes (1997), The second recording done with this lineup of four singer-songwriters (Laura, Debbie Diedrich, Katie Henry, and T.R. Kelley) who back each other up with stunning vocal harmonies, Kelley on bass, Diedrich on keyboard, Henry on banjo, and Kemp on dobro.

W.O.W, Live Babes - (1995), first recording done live at the W.O.W Hall in Eugene, OR, with Babes With Axes.



Six years after releasing her critically acclaimed album May, singer-songwriter Laura Kemp has produced her sixth studio collection, Bodhi Tree. A fixture on the Northwest music scene since 1990 and regular winner of the Eugene Weekly’s annual reader’s poll for Best Singer-Songwriter, Laura ventured out of her hometown and traveled to Nashville, TN to record her most recent CD.

This was not her first trip to Music City – as a student at Vanderbilt University back in the mid 1980’s, some of her earliest experiences on stage were in Nashville, as well as in Germany where she spent a year as an exchange student, skipping class, busking in the streets and gigging in Irish pubs.

Twenty-five years later and ready to record her 6th studio album, Laura received an invitation to head back to Nashville, this time not as a college student, but as a seasoned performer, songwriter, and recording artist. Welcomed by the May floods just two days after arriving, she and producer, Nomad Uvunc, the husband of her long time friend and fellow musician, Mare Wakefield, holed up for 3 weeks and recorded 11 of the 12 songs on Bodhi Tree.

Rooted in folk but reflecting a rich mix of influences from bluegrass to jazz, the album features Laura on vocals, guitar, harmonica, and harmonium. She is backed by some of Nashville’s finest players, including 2004 Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year Will Kimbrough on guitars and vocals (Todd Snider, Rodney Crowell); Fats Kaplin on accordion (Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler); David Henry on cello (Cowboy Junkies, Indigo Girls, Steve Earle); Ryan Joseph on mandolin and fiddle, and Dave Isaacs on guitars. Producer Nomad Ovunc plays keyboards, bass, and drums, and Mare Wakefield adds harmony vocals.

The songwriting on Bodhi Tree is partly influenced by a journey Laura took to India in 2008. She spent three months primarily in the north, studying yoga, volunteering in an orphanage, and traveling. She brought back a harmonium, a traditional Indian instrument that she uses on the title track of the new disc. Two other songs emerged from her India excursion: “The Locals,” a song about going within for the answers, and “Kavita’s Song,” written from the perspective of a woman in an arranged marriage. The other eight original songs on the album range in topic from dogs to family and from love to mountaintop tragedies.

The album’s final song, “Summertime,” was added back in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, recorded at the studio of jazz guitarist Don Latarski. This well-known standard features her current band and gives the listener a taste of what’s to come in a future recording. She is currently studying jazz guitar and plans on eventually releasing a full album of jazz standards. She also looks forward to recording a collection of Indian-influenced kirtan/devotional music featuring her harmonium with a combination of Sanskrit and English lyrics.

Meanwhile, Laura continues to perform, both solo and with others; teach guitar; garden; backpack; practice yoga...and develop new song material.