Artifacts is the first album from Andriana Lehr since her 2013 debut Try to Be True and the intervening three years has seen this extraordinarily talented singer and songwriter become one of brightest talents burning in the musical firmament today. She definitely occupies a space in the singer/songwriter genre, but her musical skills are far more broad-based than simply an acoustic guitar, some backing vocals, and light instrumentation. She reaches into a variety of styles over the course of Artifacts’ ten songs including blues, pop balladry, and country music. Her lyrical content is across the board superb. Lehr writes candidly and imaginatively about her experiences while also transforming them into something universal rather miring them in autobiographical obscurity. She has vocal talent that’s every bit the equal of her superb vocals.
It surfaces immediately on the opener. “Outrun the Changes” is a little bit about the dramatic shifts that happen in young adult life, the feeling of leaving childhood behind once and for all, but it really has widespread relevance and that’s one of the greatest parts of its art. Lehr has mastered the talent for making the personal universal and the fine backing she gets perfectly complements the lyric and vocal content. “Ready To Be” sort of emerges into being before settling into a slightly jazzed up country groove. This is a song about self-realization in its many forms and elicits a vocal gem from Lehr. The contribution of string instruments, particularly violin, gives the song a lightly orchestrated quality that makes it all the more appealing. The third song “Ashes in the Fog” is sonically reminiscent of the opener without ever imitating it. There’s a firmer, more discernible structure at work than the earlier song and the solid acoustic rhythm guitar gives it a sturdy spine.
“Catch 22” has some particularly interesting instrumental breaks later in the song and the shuffle styled arrangement it takes on keeps things breathlessly cooking for much of the song. Lehr’s vocal does a great job of giving the lyric a little added bite despite the upbeat tempo. The music takes a surprising turn on “Halfway Home”. This is pure musical theater with Lehr’s dynamic voice and tastefully lyrical piano playing at the center of it all creating a haunted, dreamlike atmosphere. The words are as strong as ever, but they do get lost a little bit more than some might like thanks to the ghostly treatment in the arrangement. Ken Wilson’s precise, yet soulful, dobro playing makes its presence felt for a final time on the song “Since You’ve Been Gone” and complements the shuffle tempo quite well. This song adheres a little more to expected formulas than the earlier tracks, but that doesn’t weaken its impact. Artifacts concludes with the acoustic strains of “The Expansion of Everything”, a gloriously complete encapsulation of the album’s themes with some added concerns that further expands Lehr’s songwriting reach. Her beautifully crystalline vocals are the crowning touch that helps make this a perfect ending for her best album yet. It’s onward and upward from here for this impressive young talent.