MayMay: And So I Place You In the Setting Sun

A quietly eloquent collection of vocal-based folk music, And So I Place You in the Setting Sun is the debut solo album from Laurel Simmons under the MayMay moniker. A one-time member of the chamber-folk outfit Loch Lomond, Simmons clearly knows how to craft a compelling song, regardless of whether it's an intimate piano ballad or more full-bodied set-piece. If there's a melancholy thematic bent to the album, it's perhaps attributable to the fact that she inaugurated the MayMay project during her first winters in the Pacific Northwest after moving from her native Arizona (the alias itself is an homage to her grandmother Barbara Mae May). Simmons' pastoral-folk settings prove to be the perfect match for her soothing, at times ethereal vocalizing.

A gifted melodicist, Simmons elevates songs like “The Fall” with lilting melodic turns and luscious vocal harmonies, and the album presents nine serenading examples of the Portland, Oregon-based songwriter's artistry. But they're not simply variations on a single theme as Simmons explores different styles on the thirty-seven-minute album. So while there is piano-based balladry (“Bringing Home”), there's also much more. Not every one of the songs is a comforting serenade, either, and a grungier side of MayMay sometimes comes to the fore. The brooding waltz “Stories We Lived By” introduces some small degree of tension (even going so far as to include a fuzz-laden guitar solo), while the presence of electric guitar in a number of songs lends the set a harder edge than what's heard on your customary folk collection. Slide guitar playing and a slow-motion tempo even give “Lines to Water” a rather Mazzy Starr-like quality.

Acoustic guitars and her honey-dew voice occupy the center of a given song, which Simmons judiciously expands upon with painterly touches—strings in “Stories We Lived By” and sleigh bells in “If It Remains Light,” for example. Piano and organ provide the backdrop to Simmons' vocals during the stately dirge “In the Fields,” and she is never more affecting than during the wistful closer, “Winter Air,” a graceful meditation that complements her multi-layered vocal and piano playing with beautiful washes of ambient guitar textures.

October 2012