The brief downtime between Vampire Weekend's Contra and all the other surefire Album of the Year contenders scheduled for release in the next month or so, from Yeasayer and Magnetic Fields to Spoon and Beach House, serves as the perfect opportunity to take in July Flame, the seventh full-length by Laura Veirs. Known most widely for her collaboration with the Decemberists on "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) from their 2006 album The Crane Wife, Veirs' own material tends to skew a bit quieter than that song, but it's generally no less carefully adorned. She peppers July Flame with just enough double-tracked vocals, strings and keys to keep it from being just another Girl With a Guitar album--a form equally predisposed to mind-numbing dullness as its close relative, the Guy With a Guitar album. Her voice helps the cause, too: it's smooth and, yes, whispery, but not overly so. At the higher end of her range, she bears a strong resemblance to Mary Lou Lord, another artist who managed to strike the delicate balance between cutesy and assertive. Also like Lord, Veirs' guitar playing is dynamic, complex without being wanky, and impressively varied, the undisputed centerpiece of the album. Weird, then, that the title-track is a relatively buoyant full-band track that belies the album's otherwise relaxed tone: one wonders if this a direction Veirs cares to explore in the future. One also wouldn't mind if she just kept right on doing what she's been doing.