It’s fitting that Laura Gibson’s latest effort La Grande, her second full length and follow up to 2009’s Beasts of Seasons, is named after a small town in her native Oregon. Like recent tourmates (and grizzled travellers themselves) Richmond Fontaine, the music of Gibson and La Grande is firmly rooted in the boxcar-jumpin’ spirit of the American West, by turns joyous and tragic. However, whilst the connection is obvious, the songs spun by Gibson throughout La Grande’s course are anything but.

And that’s because Gibson, in fine pioneering fettle, is far from content to ride the coattails of her forefathers and mothers. Until recently, the likes of fellow Oregon natives The Decemberists (there’s a pattern emerging here…) were keen to play around with Americana’s long-established tropes, and so too, Gibson exhibits this willingness for adventure. The opening title track is a pulsing, whipcracking wagontrain of a folk song that Bill Callahan would be proud of, but it’s immediately followed by the stately campfire elegance of ‘Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed’. Still not content to stay in one place, La Grande then sees fit to steer a course toward ‘Lion Lamb’, a slice of effortless, languid, and skilfully arranged tropicalia, before embarking down the lonesome trails of album standout ‘Warming Skin’. It’s all brought out beautifully by Gibson’s production, which has her sounding like she’s singing down a tin can at some points, but captures the crystalline creaking of her guitar, and a cornucopia of woodwinds, brass, and strings (much of which is contributed by Calexico’s Joey Burns, which makes sense) perfectly.

Perhaps as a result of all this early musical wanderlust, La Grande’s second half can seem somewhat staid in light of its first. ‘Red Moon’ treads the same sort of sparkling water as ‘Lion Lamb’, but comes across indolent rather than inventive. Likewise, in a different context ‘Crow Swallow’ could be an affected, stripped-down folk song, but instead of presenting moving roadweariness, the song just sounds a little worn out. ‘The Fire’ presents an entertaining diversion, as close to rollicking as someone with a voice as fragile as Gibson’s could get, but sadly, La Grande lacks momentum toward its close.

With La Grande, Laura Gibson has produced a bold, if largely gentle record of contemporary Americana. Its engineering, in particular, expertly bridges the divide between the homespun warmth and character of mid-twentieth century recordings, and the crystal clarity we’re becoming more used to, meaning that it’s rarely not a delight to take in, from an amateur audiophile’s point of view. Its second half does have a tendency toward lag and repetition, but based on the strength of some of the arrangements here, where Gibson’s road might lead next is an exciting prospect.