On her debut album “Burn The Boats,” Shelby Earl reasons that if you burn the boats after a long voyage, you’re already home.
It’s essentially what she did before heading into the studio to record that album, quitting her day job at age 33 and going on all-in on a career in music. She did it, she said, because it was the final step necessary to help her believe in her music and her future as an artist.
Four years after that fateful decision, Earl’s belief has never been stronger. She celebrated the release of her sophomore album, “Swift Arrows,” with a show Saturday night at Columbia City Theater, where the album was recorded the course of eight days with producer Damien Jurado.
Some hauntingly beautiful tunes from songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews and an exuberant hour from brothers Mikey and Matty Gervais got the night started off on the right foot. Finally, Earl, clad in a black cocktail dress, nonchalantly made her way onto the stage and got her set going with “The Seer,” the first song she wrote for her new album.
It’s a tune she started writing when she was in the process of recording “Burn The Boats,” and she said it was confirmation that she had more songs in her than just the 12 she wrote for that album. On Saturday, it proved to be the perfect introduction, as Earl used her thrumming acoustic guitar and crystal clear voice to build tension until the full band came crashing into effect halfway through the song in a cathartic, triumphant release.
While Earl’s powerful voice had overwhelmed the recording equipment and necessitated some creative fixes while “Swift Arrows” was being made, with a full band it worked perfectly and every song replicated the spark of life that made the album one of the best releases of 2013 thus far.
Earl’s set proved full of symbolism. “This Is Me Now,” a song about being unapologetic for the personal changes that life often necessitates, seemed particularly apt. So too did “We Will Die,” in which Earl cheerfully warns “Do not slow, do not wait/You’ve got no time, no living to waste.”
While she front-loaded her set with gloomy tunes such as the sullen “Time For Grownup Things” and “Blue Girl” — and got a good laugh from the crowd when she joked about it — it wasn’t all seriousness. Musician friends including both openers joined Earl for the whimsical “The Artist,” which had a humorous call-and-response chorus of “I love you/You love you, too.”
Earl also paid tribute to her two sets of parents (from Washington and California, both on hand Saturday) with the affecting “Mary,” which she sang with her voice thick with emotion and her eyes glazed with unshed tears of love and appreciation.
She also thanked Jurado with a cover of “Museum of Flight,” off of his album “Maraqopa.” It’s a song that she said solidified her decision to pursue him as producer.
Before coming out for an encore of two songs off “Burn The Boats,” Earl closed things out with “Sea of Glass” and left Columbia City Theater with one final bit of lyrical symbolism as she belted out “So much glory, glory, glory on the horizon.”
For an artist just starting to reach the height of her creative powers, those words, like the rest of Earl’s set, felt just right.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails