Gaelynn Lea makes a stop home

by Paul Whyte

Singer-songwriter and violinist Gaelynn Lea will be playing only one show in her hometown of Duluth on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Sacred Heart Center as part of her tour promoting her new album, “Learning How to Stay.” The album has been out since early September but Gaelynn has been busy traveling the United States, spreading her contemporary folk tunes and inspiring audiences. After a short break in the area, she will head overseas to play several dates in the United Kingdom. 

Gaelynn is not a newcomer to Duluth music, having played extensively in the last decade as a guest violinist with bands such as Snobarn, The Getarounds and the semi-active project Murder of Crows with Alan Sparhawk of Low. More recently she has been performing her own solo material. In 2016 things really took off for her musically when she won NPR’s second annual Tiny Desk competition where she was selected out of over 6,000 entries. After her win, she and her husband sold their home, bought a van, and began to actively tour. 

On top of coming out with this album and rigorous touring, Gaelynn has also been a proponent of disability rights. She was born with a genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfect, leaving her reliant on a motorized wheelchair. Her shortened stature due to brittle bones made her adapt to playing the violin as most would play a cello. Her voice is also notably higher pitched, making it audibly unique. Her positive outlook and inner strength has outweighed any physical difficulties she has faced while pursuing a life as a professional touring musician. 

“Learning How to Stay” is Gaelynn’s third full-length album and is the culmination of what she has done so far. Those who have been following Gaelynn for awhile may notice that there are couple of songs off prior albums such as the single worthy track “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun.” This album takes everything up a notch with the addition of a backing band and finished tweaks of a well-done studio effort. In the last couple of years she has gained several thousand listeners, so bringing a couple of great songs to their final form for an album that will be the first experience for many who are new to hearing her isn’t a bad move in my book. 

With songs like “I See it Too,” her lyrics often acknowledge the hard times but gives a hopeful outlook in the end. “What do you feel in your mind, baby?/Do you think you are lost and alone?/Does all that you touch turn to sharpness/When you sense that you don’t have a home?/‘Cause I feel it too/Just different than you/But I feel it too.”

The musical arrangements are nothing short of gorgeous and are somehow emboldened by a lengthy list of talent that sat in on the recordings. While this music could be called “folk,” there’s definitely something fresh and even experimental going on with this material. Even the couple of “old” songs feel new and invigorated. The traditional tracks “Jim and Judy’s Wedding,” an Irish instrumental, and “Metsakukkia,” a Finnish tune, shows a little of the repertoire Gaelynn has outside of her original material. 

Gaelynn will play the new album in its entirety at Saturday’s Sacred Heart Show with a full band backing the performance. Longtime fans and new listeners alike will be pleased by this beautiful and powerful set of songs and Sacred Heart is an ideal venue to showcase this material. Also playing will be guests Ingeborg Von Agassiz and Jerree Small. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. 

For more information, check out her website at violinscratches.com

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