A mellow, melodic evening

Horse Feathers + Lay Low – Union Hall – May 3

On the small, dimly lit Union Hall stage, Icelandic singer-songwriter Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir of Lay Low picked up her guitar without uttering a word and began to tune it. Unaware of her presence, the crowd continued to talk until Lovísa began speaking in hushed tones. The room gradually fell quiet.

By blending together elements of pop, country, and blues, Lovísa sounds something like a folked-out lounge singer with a more modest and mellow disposition. She doesn’t always hit all the right notes on her guitar, but when she makes a slight mistake, she quietly chuckles to herself and all is forgiven. Her slightly disjoined English and Icelandic accent are also quite a disarming combo. I hope you understand me, she admitted between songs. Sometimes I say things without thinking and I forget words.

Lay Low (Photo Baldur Kristjans)

Though Lovísa usually plays with a backing band, she is solo for her US tour. At one point, she hummed another melody as she played her acoustic guitar and later sheepishly explained, I feel a little bit weird when I do that – the hmmmm hmmm – but this is my first time touring solo. I’m trying to be a band with my mouth.

Lovísa concluded her short set with eponymous track from her 2006 debut album Please Don’t Hate Me, and given her charming personality, it seems she has little to worry about.

The line-up of Portland’s Horse Feathers may have changed since the release of their second album, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from watching them perform. The four-piece band seems quite at home on stage and with each other – even though it no longer consists of siblings Peter and Heather Broderick.

Horse Feathers (Photo Tarina Westlund)

It’s hard to pick which element of Horse Feathers is more pleasant – the vocals or the instrumentation. Just when you really start swooning at the carefully orchestrated string arrangements or the wonders of the saw, all the instruments fall out, leaving the vocals suddenly exposed, and the effect is breath-taking. Frontman Justin Ringle’s gentle but earnest voice seems to contain healing powers, and the addition of his band mates (Nathan Crocket, Catherine Odell, and Sam Cooper) on backing vocals is stunning – especially when all four sing at once.

The band played a number of songs from their new album, in addition to some older ones like the lovely”Finch on Saturday” from their debut album, Words Are Dead. The set was relatively short, but they did come back for an encore – a haunting cover of the song “Orphan Girl” by the American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch.

Hopefully, if you missed the music last night, you got a chance to check them out at the Mercury Lounge tonight instead.

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