New year, new city, new beginning: Chris Pureka arrived in Portland, OR on New Year’s Eve 2012. She had been touring the US for the last 10 years, Europe the last three, performing unadorned, country-inflected folk music at cozy clubs and grand theaters, grassroots festivals and urban block parties. She had crisscrossed the states sharing the stage with such artists as the Lumineers, Sera Cahoone, Y La Bamba, Martin Sexton and Ani DiFranco. But aside from a yearlong stint in Brooklyn, she had never lived anywhere outside her native Northampton, Mass. She’d always loved Portland, though, home to one of the strongest creative communities in America. Within months she had a new house, a new garden, a new dog and new inspiration. She had a new place to call home. From here, she begins the next chapter of a career built on independence and intimacy.
Pureka’s latest release, Chimera II, is an expression of transition, collecting seven tracks old and new, borrowed and original. Like its predecessor, it’s both a coda and prelude, an assortment of songs that are vital and revealing and yet don’t quite fit within the focus of her full-length albums.
The name refers to the three-headed creature of Greek mythology, part serpent, part lion, part goat. It’s also a scientific term that describes an organism derived from two genetically distinct types of cells—a nod toward Pureka’s background as a research biologist. Both contexts are apt: Chimera II is a grab bag of curiosities.
The two cover songs stand out immediately. Album opener “Like a Movie” was penned by friend and occasional touring partner Nicole Reynolds and recorded before Pureka’s departure from Brooklyn. Cover number 2, “Play With Fire” was Pureka's contribution to a Rolling Stones tribute night at the Iron Horse Music Hall a few years ago; she delivers it here as a scathing indictment. “I felt like I had something different to offer,” she says of her choice of covers. “It doesn’t make sense to record a song exactly the same way someone else did.”
Pureka wrote “Old Photographs” as part of a group project inspired by author T Cooper’s memoir Real Man Adventures. “I usually write from my own experience,” she says, “so having a project where I had specific direction was challenging and rewarding: an interesting opportunity to approach songwriting in a different way.” Older compositions “Barn Song” and “Song for November” were recorded live at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC. The other live song, “Broken Clock,” was recorded at the famous Daytrotter Studio in southern Illinois during Pureka’s session there in July 2012.
“Shepard” is the most recent composition of the bunch. Pureka recorded the intimate album closer on her own rig at home in Portland and it stands apart from the rest of the EP for good reason. “It feels super delicate and that’s different from most of the stuff I’m writing now,” she says. “The new material is a little more intense a little louder and definitely darker.” Happily ensconced in a new city, surrounded by a new community of friends, collaborators and supporters, she’s working on her next full-length, set for release later this year.
Available June 25, Chimera II is Pureka’s fifth release on her own Sad Rabbit Records. Soon after she'll be on the road again with her next headlining tour.