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Laura Minor 

Salesman's Girl (HighTone)

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002
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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.

About The Author

Chris Baty

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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