Laura Minor

Salesman's Girl (HighTone)

Salesman's Girl was never supposed to happen. If everything had gone according to plan, Laura Minor would still be tucked away in a Floridian ivory tower, working on her doctorate in poetry. But shortly after moving to Gainesville to start her Ph.D. program, Minor had a fateful run-in with local musician Jared Flamm.

Flamm liked Minor's voice, and the two started composing songs together. Minor had never tried her hand at songwriting before, but with Flamm's help, the tunes flowed effortlessly. A few months later, she quit grad school to become a musician full time.

If abandoning a doctorate for the life of a country singer sounds like the kind of quixotic misstep designed to give anxious parents heart problems, you haven't heard Salesman's Girl. This sassy, self-assured collection bespeaks a musical natural -- someone with Shania Twain's bright and charismatic voice and twice her lyrical smarts.

The album is front-loaded with catchy tunes, from the tumbling organ and sweet harmonies of "Loneliness" to the Tom Petty-inspired anthem "American Girls." Unlike the songs of altcountry colleague Neko Case, Minor's stuff is more about having fun than achieving moody atmospherics or pulling off vocal gymnastics. For all their roadhouse simplicity, though, the numbers on Salesman's Girl are heavy with intricate metaphor and turns of phrase. When writing the lyrics Minor plundered her dissertation poems, and the literary origins of the stanzas are obvious in scene-setting lines such as "Paradise under their eyes/ The cattle shift and they curse" (from "Rust of the Carolinas"). Likewise, she poetically admonishes the title track's traveling salesman, singing, "You used to be full of heart and free/ Where sailors towed a salesman's dreams."

Along with having writing gifts, Minor knows how to pick a team. Her cohorts Flamm and Aaron Carr bring the record up a notch with their rootsy, sure-handed guitar work. Minor also pulled a major coup by getting David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven to produce, and tapping Brian Paulson (Uncle Tupelo, Beck, the Jayhawks) to handle recording and mixing. The hired help obviously brought out the best in the young singer, resulting in a charming debut album that will calm her parents' beleaguered tickers as surely as it leaves listeners' hearts aflutter.

 
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