Many different things can happen to an artist’s sound while they’re assembling their third record. If their first two records have a similar feel, they can switch gears and put together something entirely different. If their first two records are wildly divergent, the third can bridge the two sounds (think Patty Griffin’s 1000 Kisses). Finally, a skilled, assured artist, can keep on doing what they’ve always done, building other small, subtle layers on their already formidable skills.
Such is the case with Everyman, Laura Tsaggaris’ third full-length record. It’s certainly not difficult to hear the quiet folk of her debut, Proof, or the more rocking parts of her sophomore album, Keep Talking. But Everyman is easily her most assured yet, a lovely collection of 13 pop songs, each of which brings something unique to the table. Some of that credit is due to producer Jamie Candiloro, who has worked with artists as diverse as Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Courtney Love, Luscious Jackson, and REM. Also in the mix are skilled session musicians like pedal steel player Marty Rifkin (Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty) and guitarist Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones). But by far the most credit is due to Tsaggaris (suhGAIRiss) herself, who, if you live in the DC area, has grown before our eyes into one of the great local treasures.
Partially financing the record through a successful IndieGoGo campaign, Tsaggaris’ approached the album with a novel idea. “Any time an interaction inspired me to write a song,” she said, “I recorded it on my phone and sent it to the person that had inspired it. This produced some of those tangible results I was looking for - tears, hugs, nodding heads and got me back to the most awesome parts about making music.”
Just as our various interactions with each other are wildly divergent, so are the songs and emotions on Everyman. “Dig,” the album’s opener, is a soft, acoustic ballad accentuated by a perfectly placed dobro, but is followed up by the jumpy title track, on which Tsaggaris backs herself up on vocals, and a blistering guitar solo is thrown in. Gears are switched again on “I Am Not In Control,” a catchy-as-hell pop ditty complete with horns and well-placed whistling.
These shifts in tone seem perfectly natural in the context of Everyman, which its lush soundscapes is slightly more stripped down than some of Tsaggaris’ other material. Whereas a song such as “Warning Signs” from Keep Talking layers multiple guitars and some Barenaked Ladies-esque keyboard hooks, the music on Everyman is fairly simplified, less “produced,” and more organic. Thus a song like “Finish What You Started,” a pretty love song that calls to mind Lucinda Williams, can feature a soft piano and even some violins, but not feel overwrought.
Lucinda Williams is not the only comparison Tsaggaris usually gets (as does every female singer/songwriter with a good voice). Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow are cited as well. While these comparisons aren’t wrong, they sell Tsaggaris short; yes, a song like “Ask For It” does sound like Sheryl Crow, but with Tsaggaris’ angry vocals and the saxophone helping the song along, a comparison to Springsteen wouldn’t miss the mark either. It also sells short her playful side, as when she channels Lovin’ Spoonful on “Only in Daydreams” (at least until the rocking chorus kicks in).
Hopefully Everyman will mark the end of the constant comparisons and allow audiences to see that Laura Tsaggaris stands on her own merits.