Dana Falconberry album release
With: Marmalakes and Good Field
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St.
Before a rehearsal on a Monday night a couple weeks ago, Austin singer-songwriter Dana Falconberry and her bandmates considered a heap of vaguely old-timey clothing for a video shoot later in the month for the song “Please Sparrow,” which appears on her new album, “Leelanau.” The director of the video laughed as she pulled a beige jumpsuit from the pile. In one corner sat a second pile of antique shop knickknacks, also for use in the video, which involves a giant bird’s nest. They discussed instruments, who played what when they recorded the song, a folky number that begins with gentle acoustic guitar and Falconberry’s bright voice, followed by a bass line, slow-marching percussion and a chorus of backing vocals.
On “Leelanau,” Falconberry approaches her music with a similar attention to detail and sense of timelessness, a bit of a departure from the fairly stripped-down folk of her 2010 record “Hallets.” The new album, a collection of songs punctuated by short interludes (Falconberry calls them “songlets”), brims with the mood of the Michigan peninsula for which it is named and where Falconberry spent time as a child — a river runs, rain falls, birds sing. “I definitely wanted to make it bigger,” she said. “I wanted it to be a stark contrast to things I had done before.”
After sorting out the details of the video, Falconberry and her band — Gina Dvorak, Karla Mazur, Matthew Shepherd, Christopher Cox and Lindsey Verrill — gathered in a back room to rehearse, where they began working on the hymn-like harmonies central to “Tahquamenon,” one of the songlets they plan to play at the album’s release party on Thursday. Falconberry said that unlike the longer songs on the album, many of the songlets were written without being worked out first in a live setting, forcing the band to translate what they recorded.
As they worked through tweaks to the song, on which the entire band contributes vocals, drummer Shepherd left his seat at the drum set to join the rest of the members in a circle. Falconberry joked about having written the song, which involves different vocal parts being sung by male and female members of the group, at 5 a.m.
Falconberry’s band came together two years ago for what was supposed to be a one-off show at the Parish and turned into a longer-term project. She credits the group with the continuing evolution of her sound, which shines on “Leelanau.” Leading the charge of this evolution are tracks such as “Petoskey Stone” (which also appeared on an EP earlier this year), a glowing piece of folk pop where Falconberry’s vivid lyrics come together with a mini-orchestra, courtesy of Austin’s Tosca Strings (Cox arranged the strings).
Falconberry’s work often has the feel of a journey through wilderness, and “Petosky Stone” is no different. Plucked strings open the song like sunlight shooting through tree limbs; as quiet percussion and other strings emerge, a forest teems with life. Falconberry sings: “Treading north, along the shore, I comb the dune grass through my hands/lift my gaze, a ferret stays until two circling eagles land.”
“I don’t think of it as a thing that I’m doing consciously, it’s just the way I think about things,” Falconberry said of her lyrics. “I feel like when you feel a certain way or you are going through some sort of struggle, there is always something in the natural world that emulates that and that you can gain wisdom from. That sounds cheesy, but you can always find something in the natural world that mirrors that or can help you through.”
After nearly an hour of listening to the recording and plotting out how it would sound at the show, the band took a break. “It ended up being way more complicated than I thought it would,” she said.
Based on the praise that NPR, Spin and others have poured on the new material, complicated — along with big, stark contrast — is working in her favor.