Six years after releasing her critically-acclaimed album May, singer-songwriter Laura Kemp has produced her sixth studio collection, Bodhi Tree, composed of the best of her recent new material. A fixture on the Northwest music scene since 1990 and regular winner of the Eugene Weekly’s annual reader’s poll for Best Singer-Songwriter, Laura traveled to Nashville to record Bodhi Tree with some of that town’s finest musicians.
This was not Laura’s first trip to Nashville – as a student at Vanderbilt University back in the mid 1980’s, some of her earliest experiences on stage were in Music City, as well as in Germany where she spent a year as an exchange student, skipping class, busking in the streets and gigging in Irish pubs.
Twenty-five years later and ready to record her 6th studio album, Laura received an invitation to head back to Nashville, this time not as a college student, but as a seasoned performer, songwriter, and recording artist. Welcomed by the May floods just two days after arriving, she and producer, Nomad Uvunc, the husband of her long time friend and fellow musician, Mare Wakefield, holed up for 3 weeks and recorded 11 of the 12 songs on Bodhi Tree.
Rooted in folk but reflecting a rich mix of influences, from bluegrass to jazz to kirtan, the album features Laura on vocals, guitar, harmonica, and harmonium, backed by Fats Kaplin on accordion (Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler); 2004 Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year Will Kimbrough on guitars and vocals (Todd Snider, Rodney Crowell); David Henry on cello (Cowboy Junkies, Indigo Girls, Steve Earle); Ryan Joseph on mandolin and fiddle, and Dave Isaacs on guitars. Producer Nomad Ovunc plays keyboards, bass, and drums, and Mare Wakefield adds harmony vocals.
The songwriting on Bodhi Tree is partly influenced by a journey Laura took to India in 2008. She spent three months primarily in the north, studying yoga, volunteering in an orphanage, and traveling. She brought back a harmonium, a traditional Indian instrument that she uses on the title track of the new disc. Two other songs emerged from her India excursion: “The Locals,” a song about going within for the answers, and “Kavita’s Song,” written from the perspective of a woman in an arranged marriage. The other eight original songs on the album range in topic from dogs to family and from love to mountaintop tragedies.
The album’s final song, “Summertime,” was added back in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, recorded at the studio of jazz guitarist Don Latarski. This well-known standard features her current band and gives the listener a taste of what’s to come in a future recording. She is currently studying jazz guitar and plans on eventually releasing a full album of jazz standards. She also looks forward to recording a collection of Indian-influenced kirtan/devotional music featuring her harmonium with a combination of Sanskrit and English lyrics.
Meanwhile, Laura continues to perform, both solo and with others; teach guitar; garden; backpack; practice yoga...and develop new song material.