PROOF Laura Tsaggaris
Imagine you are on a boat that is drifting down a wide river. This ship is not small, and yet it makes its way along fairly quietly, hardly intruding on the late evening calm. You're up on deck, leaning against the railing, taking in the shifting character of the shore and the river's surface. Co-incidentally, today's your birthday. One might say you're "feeling your age," though you aren't wistfully recalling earlier times and don't feel at all tired out. You're realizing that everything you want of life is ahead of you, in the direction that you're traveling.
And as this freeing awareness registers, you hear a woman start to sing. The effect is cinematic. The song doesn't pull you out of the space you're in, but joins you there, deepening the mood. It's the perfect thing. (You notice a sliver of moon through the trees.)
When that song ends and another begins, the singer is the same but now backed by a solid band. The arrangement is stunning, an eclectic mix of flavors delivered as though nothing could be more natural. So, naturally, you're curious. You leave where you've been standing and walk in the direction of the sound, until you see a girl sitting near the bow of the boat, a lime-green boom-box on her lap. Spilling from its surprisingly high-fidelity speakers is this lovely, non-soprano, jazz-tinged music--"pop/folk" for lack of a better term. It shimmers without slickness, like the play of lights across dark water.
Not wishing to startle the girl, you cough, signaling your approach. She turns toward you. "Excuse me," you say as you come nearer, "who is that singing?" Without releasing you from her serious gaze, she pulls a CD case from her jacket pocket and hands it to you. "May I...?" you ask, gesturing toward the lit windows of the cabin. She nods, and you take the cover over where you can get a better view.
The front features a photo of a plain lightbulb burning in a chipped, enameled ceiling fixture. The troubled plaster around it is a creamy mocha color, and set into a corner where the shadow begins, in lowercase sans serif type, is the name Laura Tsaggaris and the word proof. On the back there's a partial silhouette and someone vaguely reflected in a shop window, presumably the modest Ms. Tsaggaris herself. Inside, more distressed walls or ceilings ("if these walls could talk" comes to mind), plus a clump of text too tiny to read just now.
Another track begins, and it occurs to you that the singer's voice transmits feeling with the same absence of shielding that the exposed bulb on the cover offers illumination. There's enough of a pop feel to her delivery that you could say she's not quite showing you the filament, but you wouldn't wish for her emotions to be bared any more nakedly than they are.
When you look up again, the album's owner is still watching you, deadpan. You walk over and hand her the cover, saying something simple like, "This is really good." Her face starts to take on an expression that sensitive kids often adopt for defense as they get older. But then it opens into a smile and she says, "Yeah," and then, after a second, she adds confidingly, "I love her." You nod, and when you thank her you hope she knows that you appreciate both the introduction and the atmosphere that's been provided. Then you walk back to your previous spot down the rail, where you are gently serenaded by several more terrific selections before you call it a night.
Two days later, the ship having docked at a good-sized city, you seek out an internet cafe to check your email. While online, you visit lauratsaggaris.com to find out a little about the artist and the album. Her name is pronounced suh-GAIR-iss, she lives in D.C., originally from Pittsburgh. Ian Schreier produced, and he engineered all but one song at his Osceola Studios in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was apparently a prolonged search for the right producer, and the skillfulness in evidence throughout makes you appreciate the singer/songwriter's tenacity and her luck. The band is made up of heavy hitters from the Raleigh/Chapel Hill area: John Custer (electric guitar), Matt Brandau (bass), Jim Crew (piano and B3), and Stephen Levitin (drums and percussion), with strings supplied by four members of the Raleigh Symphony. Some of the tracks that form the beautiful ballad "Permanent" were recorded by Mike Fisher at Bias Studios in Springfield, VA, with Kevin Neimond playing bass. Tsaggaris accompanies herself on guitar. Also available is an earlier solo EP, six-songs, guitar and vocals, recorded live in the studio. (You'll find the EP reveals her acoustic guitar chops, while Proof focuses more on her wonderful voice and shows the reach of her writing when given a full presentation by players such as these.) You purchase Proof at the site store, buy the EP while you're at it, and have them shipped to an address that you'll be visiting next week.
arrive back at the boat, the girl with the lime-green CD player is stepping
onto the pier, carrying her suitcase. Had she remained on board, you would've
definitely tried to bum another listen to Proof. Now you'll just
have to be patient. You don't say anything to one another as you pass,
but standing alone at the stern as your ship sets off (you're absentmindedly
whistling the melody of one of those songs), the two of you notice each
other and exchange small waves.