Chris Pureka’s sophomore release, Dryland plays like the way she enters a room—with low, deliberate airs, quietly demanding respect. One stark, solo acoustic guitar builds into layered swan songs and raspy serenades that resonate with unassuming depth and candor.
Dryland is the highly-anticipated follow-up to Pureka’s 2004 debut, Driving North, for which the rising newcomer has landed praise from publications like Performing Songwriter, Time Out New York, Nashville City Paper and many others. Comparisons flow easily: some recognize the poetry and grit of a young Bruce Springsteen or a troubled Ryan Adams. Others see Nashville shining on the horizon for this indie-acoustic songstress whose simple, yet heartfelt and vulnerable delivery often resembles shades of female greats like Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch or Mary Gauthier. Whatever the reference point, one thing remains certain: on her newest release, Chris Pureka has taken the unfettered, heart-on-your-sleeve approach she is known for and has delved even deeper into her calling to deliver a newly promising and original collection of songs. The progression is natural, if not subtle; and the results are impressive.
Pureka proudly considers Dryland an older, wiser successor to her earlier recordings. She writes, “There are many songs on the record that follow up with the themes of love and relationships that were predominant on Driving North. For instance the song, ‘Come Back Home’ is about a long distance relationship and the issues of trust and fidelity that come with that and relationships in general. However, Dryland, while continuing on with these themes also branches out topically and I think has more perspective." Sentiments of growth and change are conveyed in the title and thematically throughout Dryland. As one line from the title track reveals: “I’m holding myself, waiting and waiting, in the belly of the boat, praying for dryland.” In Pureka’s words, “One of the big themes is this idea of moving through something difficult to get to something better – putting things to rest and moving on – trying to make the most of things and trying to be patient – or at least recognizing that virtue.” Taking her own advice to heart, Pureka creates the personal challenge of penning a narrative from the perspective of her grandmother (“Swann Song”) – and pulls it off with Patty Griffin-esque mastery. It’s something of a departure for Pureka, who admittedly writes from her own experiences most of the time. Another first is her decision to include a cover song on the album, Gillian Welch’s world-weary “Everything is Free.” The rendition starts off as a timid, after-the-storm follow-up to the preceding track, but quickly blossoms into a spirited personal anthem with added meaning infused by Pureka’s convincing vocals.
Dryland was produced by Pureka and recorded at Slaughterhouse Recording Studio in Westhampton, MA. Featured on the record are jazz/pop drummer Allison Miller, best known for her work with Natalie Merchant, who adds her unmistakable touch to “Momentary Thief” and “31 and Falling.” Renowned guitarist/producer David “Goody” Goodrich (Chris Smither, Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault) provides additional layers and ambience on several tracks. Lyndell Montgomery of the Ember Swift Band adds electric bass and fiddle. Additionally, several players from Driving North returned: Sebastian Renfield assists in production and adds banjo and guitar and Merrill Garbus adds harmony vocals and fiddle.
A native New Englander, the 27 year-old Pureka came to music at an early age, writing songs on her parents out of tune piano before the age of eight; but it wasn’t until she reached sixteen that she discovered the guitar and began playing in earnest. Following high school, Pureka attended Wesleyan University where she was a student of science and graduated to become an assistant in a biology lab at Smith College. All the while Pureka’s musical ambitions persevered. In 2001 she released a 7-song, self-titled EP and shortly thereafter landed a three-month national tour with folk poet Alix Olson. With the release of Driving North in 2004, Pureka left science behind and discovered her niche as a touring singer songwriter.
While hardship, longing and loss are all common themes of Pureka’s life and music, they’re also tempered by messages of hope, strength and perseverance. Following in that spirit, Dryland heralds the return of a smart, evolving artist who has already glimpsed sun through the clouds and knows how to keep moving forward with an eye for even brighter days ahead. If the new album is any indication, brighter days will be here in no time.