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A new landscape for Laurel Brauns

Bend presented too many distractions for an adventurer such as Laurel Brauns. With so many opportunities for outdoor recreation at her disposal, the young songstress' music career lagged. This year, Brauns, 34, decided she needed a fresh perspective and accountability. She broke down, or rather humbled up, and purchased books on songwriting and began meeting regularly with fellow musicians to exchange ideas. She also moved to Portland to be part of a more musically minded crowd.

"I was pretty full-on for pursuing a music career, and I reached a point where I felt I wasn't moving, and I wanted to be someplace more musically vibrant and inspiring," she says.

The result of her efforts was her October release, "House of Snow" — her most solid piece to date.

A CD-release party is scheduled next week in Portland, but before that Brauns and a cellist, who has yet to be named, will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St., Ashland.

Produced and arranged by Douglas Jenkins, creative director for the Portland Cello Project, the album features 11 of Brauns' original songs and one cover, "Westfall" by Okkervil River. The album, Brauns' fourth, features several esteemed Portland musicians, including Jenny Conlee (piano, organ) of The Decemberists, Sam Cooper (banjo, drums, piano) of Horse Feathers, Skip VonKuske (cello) of Vagabond Opera, John Whaley (trumpet) of Run On Sentence and Franchot Tone (guitar) of Culver City Dub Collective.

Brauns bills the album as alternative or indie folk, more specifically as "earth pop" or "organic Gothic."

"The cello grounds it and gives it that darker feel," she says.

The trumpet also comes on strong, particularly in the song "Named After You," and the strings "give it a certain elegance and fluidness," Brauns says.

Although Brauns, an avid kayaker, put space between herself and the Deschutes River, her enthusiasm for the sport lingers. References to her favorite pastime — and water itself — continually appear in her songs, including the title track "House of Snow," which compares the changing state of water to relationships; "Doldrums" about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; "Kaleidoscope Eyes," with ocean references borrowed from "Moby Dick"; and "James," a song about whitewater kayaking. Themes of sustainability and environmentalism also appear regularly in her work.

Brauns also is the frontwoman of her Bend-based band Sweet Harlots, which features three to five other women. The band plays more upbeat bar and party music in the folk vein.

Cover to Brauns' show at Caldera is $5 or free with CD purchase. See www.laurelbrauns.com or call 541-482-4677.

Laurel Brauns' new album 'House of Snow' weaves together her two passions -- water and music -- in a folksy, orchestral tapestry. - Photo by Tony Bonacci