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Naomi LaViolette’s New Album is a Gift that Keeps on Giving
By Brian Palmer
With her newest release, Written for You—her first since 2013’s You’ve Got Me EP—Portland singer-songwriter-pianist Naomi LaViolette is veering in a slightly different direction than her previous albums. LaViolette’s vocals are as smooth and rich as ever, and sonically the album is as steeped in classical music and jazz as it is in folk and pop, but the wrinkle here is in the nature of the content, and that wrinkle is the gift. Instead of solely mining the depths of her life experiences while creating songs for this album, much of the content comes from songs she was commissioned to write for others. Creating a record with this theme happened naturally, but almost accidentally.
“Someone asked me to write a song commission several years ago, and it was really fun to do,” says LaViolette. “Then I got another and that was fun to do. It was this snowball effect. My husband knew how much I loved doing these, so he said, ‘You should put all these songs on a record and call it Written for You.’ So that was how this idea was born.”
The album’s nine tracks touch on subjects ranging from the power of love (“You Are My Own”) to dreams (“Waiting to Love You”) to the beauty of creation (“Sunrise”), but while there is a theme of seeking and finding the beauty in the present, some of the album’s strongest moments occur on tracks which contemplate mortality and the eternal. Whether it’s a song written as a celebration of life for a dearly departed relative (“Forever Loved”), or an attempt to offer God genuinely unique praise, as on the album’s title track, the wonder, the gift in it all is found in LaViolette’s ability to offer something moving, something profound to someone else.
Gifts appear in various forms on the record, most notably on the exquisite closing track, “Farewell,” a spine-tingling piano-led ballad which morphs into what LaViolette calls an “explosive celebration of happy guitar.” Written for legendary Portland guitarist and producer Tim Ellis, who passed away in 2016, the song is LaViolette’s way of saying thank you to Ellis.
“Tim had a huge influence on my development as an artist,” LaViolette says. “He played guitar on my first record, produced my second record, and he was a huge support to me.”
Adding to the magic of that track is the appearance of one of Tim’s protégés, Josh Cary—one of a number of guests on the album. Also making appearances are members of the Oregon Repertory Singers and the Oregon Symphony, as well as Grammy Award-winning artist Nancy Rumbel. But more than the people who have contributed to the record, or the melodies she has woven together as though they were plucked from the stars, the greatest gift she has received has been from the people who asked her to create these songs.
“It’s a blessing to write songs out of other people’s stories,” says LaViolette. “They say it’s really special to have their own song, like they’re reopening that gift every time they listen to it.”