Born and raised in Colorado Springs until she was 18, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs always wanted a female mentor. She served as one herself on many occasions, from teaching music to volunteering at a rock camp for girls, but she never found that key figure to help her navigate the twists and turns of belonging to Simone de Beauvoir's "second sex" in a male-dominated business.
As it turns out, all she had to do was sing. On her latest album, July Flame, Veirs joined My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James for a tribute to unsung session bass player Carol Kaye, who played on everything from Pet Sounds to Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High."
"Maybe I could meet her / Shake her hand one day," Veirs muses on the song, appropriately titled "Carol Kaye." Kaye, who, according to Veirs, raised three children on her own throughout the 1950s and '60s while maintaining a prolific career, heard the song and reached out to her.
"She's coming to my L.A. show," says Veirs. "I will be able to shake her hand one day. She's, like, kind of taken me under her wing. She's 74 now. She's kind of like my mom, in a way. She e-mails me right back; it's so cute."
Veirs' maternal connection couldn't have come at a more appropriate time, as the honey-throated, atmospheric folkster is pregnant and will be about eight months along by the time her tour comes to a close.
"[Carol Kaye] is giving me advice about touring on the road pregnant, which she did in the '50s," says Veirs. "She said, 'Make everyone help you.' The guys in her crew did not help her lift things, or open doors, or anything. She's like, 'YOU NEED TO MAKE THEM HELP YOU,' in all caps."
July Flame is the first time in years that Veirs isn't backed by a known label. After five releases on either Bella Union or Nonesuch, she revived her own boutique, Raven Marching Band.
"You can get lost in the shuffle, that's the downside," says Veirs of today's highly saturated market. "Everybody and their mom is making records on Pro Tools and putting them up online. [But] certainly good music surfaces, sooner or later."
While blending classical guitar picking with Gothic and front-porch elements, Veirs also enlisted the Tosca String Quartet for compelling tracks like "Sleeper in the Valley" and "Make Something Good." The album reflects the natural environments she's been immersed in her entire life.
"My family was very loving and outdoorsy," says Veirs, who's called Portland, Ore., home for most of her adult life. "We really took advantage of the natural world: the mountains and back-country skiing, hiking in the summer, climbing the fourteeners and doing all that Colorado stuff."
But her songs, she adds, could come from anywhere:
"Anyone in the world can experience those basic, mundane facts of life, like [the] sun coming through a window or smoke coming through a valley."