A captivating voice, haunting imagery, and vivid narratives: against a rich panorama of Americana music, singer-songwriter Lauren Pratt introduces her new full-length release, Young American Sycamore.
The tree in the title is a species that, unlike most trees, sheds its bark as it matures. “These songs are a testimony to the hard times and trials I’ve gone through," Lauren says. "But I am not keeping them with me -- it's time to grow.”
From propulsive bluegrass rhythms to ghostly gothic textures, Young American Sycamore illustrates a wide sonic spectrum of literate songcraft. “I’m a firm believer in the cyclical nature of stories,” Lauren affirms. “For me, this album felt like a significant arc in my personal character development. I am drawn to the songwriting of Johnny Cash and Patty Griffin; the characters in their songs are deeply flawed but something in them longs to be redeemed."
After leaving her home state of Florida to study classical voice at Belhaven University in Mississippi, Lauren moved to Nashville where she became part of a tight-knit songwriting community. On a beautiful April evening, after returning from post-performance camaraderie with music friends, she was awakened in the night by shouts and sirens. The roof of her apartment – in a complex called The Sycamores – was on fire. “It was a pivotal moment in my life,” she recalls. “I was burned out of my home and the dream in one fell swoop. ”
It wasn’t simply the fire that burned her out; after recording and touring behind her full-length album, Days Like Tonight and producing Live At Monster Studios, she was disenchanted by the rigors of the music business. She enrolled in a masters program in Clinical mental health counseling and Expressive art therapy in Boston "to apply my knowledge and love for helping people,” she says.
But the songs from her two previous releases moved through the ether. She was contacted by the Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, and invited to North Adams, Massachusetts to compete for the “No Depression Singer-Songwriter Award” at FreshGrass Festival. This September, after the Young American Sycamore release, Lauren will perform on the main stage, joining such Americana icons as Mavis Staples, Iron & Wine, Calexico, and Andrew Bird. “For two years I was out of commission, not writing or singing, yet all of this happened,” she says. “I realized I’m not alone, and I don’t have to grind myself to dust.”
Young American Sycamore reflects this rejuvenation. The opening song and first single “In the Valley,” roars in like a locomotive. “Twenty Five” is the tale of two brothers, one sworn to justice, and the other to running moonshine. Coming off of a tough tour at the age she references by title, Lauren penned these lines, “Twenty-five ain’t nothing like I thought it’d be/It’s all smoke and mirrors and a tank of gasoline.” Gliding on spectral strains of a shimmering pedal steel, “Haunting” evokes classic country, with a reverent nod to Patsy Cline in the opening lines, “Have I gone crazy/Talking to air/Calling out ‘baby’ when nobody’s there.”
As a student at Richard Thompson and Nancy Covey’s Acoustic Guitar and Songwriting Camp Frets & Refrains, Lauren enrolled in Patty Griffin's songwriting course and began working on the assigned prompt. Lauren remembers: “I couldn’t think of anything, then half an hour before class I jotted down a song. I sang in a barn with Patty four feet in front of me. At the end, Patty said, ‘You have a voice like Odetta - it resonates at a deep place in a person’s soul.’ It was the most amazing compliment I'd ever heard in my life. She went on to tell me that the song was finished and I shouldn't touch it. Hey, if it's good enough for Patty, it's good enough for me." The intimate acapella song, titled “Doubt”, concludes the new album.
With a personal mission of discovering the empathetic connection that exists between audience and performer, Lauren is intent on continuing the quest for "civil discourse about the truth in our lives.” With the release of Young American Sycamore, Lauren Pratt reaffirms her artistic roots and sheds the proverbial bark of the past through her musical mission of kindness and compassion.
- Dan Kimpel