Concerts can make, break, or completely change and shape one’s view of an artist. You can show up so excited to see a favorite musician play and leave a bit uninspired due to a lackluster performance or a barely there sense of passion. You can go to a show so excited to hear your favorite song performed live and leave surprised, being blown away by the theatricality of it all- the grand lights, the big props, the change of costumes, the glittering microphones-instead of the artist’s songs and talented musical performance. My favorite concert experience is the intimate one which completely changes or sparks a connection with an artist’s music. A concert where you aren’t moved by the stage and the decor but by the voice. A concert where an artist asks that you put away your phone and be present for the music. A concert where you leave hopeful that music can move people, that music can build connections, and that music can tell a story through lyrics and well-crafted melodies.
Noah Gundersen and his sister, Abby, put on a show worth remembering. The soft strings, the acoustic guitar-melodies, the focus on the story and the song: that’s their forte. I had the privilege of seeing the duo in perform live two years ago and I became hooked on their songs. Both of the Gundersens perform with a sure passion, closing their eyes and feeling the music and message. This isn’t a concert review, but if it was I’d tell you to check out their live show as fast as you can. Their gigs feels like the “Americana” I romanticize in my mind, where concerts are filled with fiddles and camaraderie and you sit at a table drinking and laughing and listening to wonderful music with great friends. Noah Gundersen’s newest album, Ledges, brings the feeling of a live show filled with good folk music and storytelling to a record.
The title track is a stand-out for multiple reasons. It brings up the theme of teetering on an edge and wondering if it’s time to jump: standing on the edge of childhood and hoping adulthood will bring light and clarity and guidance and strength to do what is right, “here I stand on the edge of the ledges I’ve made, looking for a steady hand.” The edge of a decision that’s good or bad, the edge of a relationship that should end but could soldier on for lust’s or something along-the-lines-of-love’s-sake, the album is filled with these choices and their stories and outcomes.
The steady hand image rears its head in multiple forms throughout the album, it feels like Gundersen is searching for a figurative “steady hand,” something to hold onto when times get tough. It’s this raw and honest emotion that attracts me, and many listeners, to the folk/singer-songwriter genre. With a simple story Gundersen speaks to the human condition, we all want to feel loved and safe and comfortable, but sometimes we need more. That wrestling with wants and needs and mistakes and decisions is a frequent concern in folk music. “Cigarettes,” deals directly with that problem: wanting to let something go but feeling attracted to it.
Other stand-out songs include “Isaiah,” and a personal favorite, “First Defeat.”
Ledges is an album full of personal songs that have a universal impact. Growth, regret, lust, love, spiritual awakening, influence, and questioning mixed with the immediacy of growing up: Ledges is an album that any country, folk, or twenty-something can connect to.