Posted by Christopher Will on 04/06 at 12:04 PM
You could argue that Maura Westerlund is one of the head honchos of Penn State’s local music scene, as the president of Penn State’s Songwriter’s Club, as well as a veteran singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist. The Pittsburgh native has been writing and playing her own original compositions since she picked up a guitar and a notebook in middle school. “I started playing the piano when I was six years old, but having to practice piano for like an hour a day at six years old is really tough.” she explained. “It wasn’t until I was 13 and started playing guitar that I started taking what I knew and turning it into songs.”
Since then, she has steadily evolved into a graceful songbird, spinning pieces of bright, acoustic driven coffeehouse pop. Today she is a junior at Penn State studying business psychology, with two EPs under her belt and years of experience in live performance. She has no plans to stop now, and is slowly, but surely, perfecting her sound in order to record her first full-length album.
Though Westerlund acknowledges her sonic influences are grounded in acoustic pop, she also borrows bits and pieces of other genres, creating her own special brand of coffeehouse music. As a classically trained pianist, she has imbued several of her tracks with deftly executed piano riffs, adding flare and flourish to the stripped down, lyrically dense compositions. She has a solid appreciation for jazz, and that shows itself in the inflection in her strong vocals, drawing comparisons to Natasha Bedingfield with her sturdy vibrato. She also takes heavy influence from some of the most distinguished coffeehouse artists of the 21st century, particularly Sara Barellis. “I love that lady! She’s awesome, I’ve seen her in concert a few times, and her stage presence and just the way that she’s so confident about everything she writes is really admirable.” she said.
Her latest release, For Now, is a testament to her raw talent and legitimacy as an artist. The first song of the four track EP, “What About,” opens with intricate piano keys, gliding through the song as Westerlund’s pretty voice rises and falls, crafting a lyrical tale akin to that of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” “What’s that you say? You wanna run away? Don’t you know that there is a way to fix this corner that you’re stuck in? What about love?” Westerlund combines her optimistic lyrics, piano skills, and appealing vocals to give For Now the perfect opening track, leaving the listener craving more.
The next track, “Loser”, is much more sedated than “What About,” driven by a solitary acoustic guitar, beautifully soft and sad under Westerlund’s aching melodies. In “Loser,” we find Westerlund contemplating her state as a hopeless romantic and yearning for the attention of the man she is singing to. “So here I dream as I fall for you. In my night’s sleep, I call your name. But I know that it’s all just the same from here on out. I’m just a loser in the game.” This kind of honesty, coupled with the modest instrumentation, is absolutely captivating. The complete switch of sound and lyrical content from “What About” to “Loser” really shows Westerlund’s diversity as an artist.
“In My Life,” opens with a groovy acoustic guitar, demonstrating Westerlund’s appreciation of jazz. She takes yet another lyrical direction for “In My Life,” building a joyous tale of love in the verses, but admitting a measure of uncertainty in the chorus, singing, “but days go by and still I try, I try to find why you are in my life.” This kind of lyrical back and forth is a difficult thing to accomplish, but luckily Westerlund is no novice to songwriting. Thus, the concept is executed skillfully, and the track, like all of her other pieces, flows well.
With the final track, “Abraham,” we find Westerlund ending For Now the same way the EP began, with her fingers flying across the keys of a piano. “Abraham” is dark and intense, a song that comes across as more of a musical story, a writing technique that Westerlund admitted to employing with many of her compositions. “A lot of my songs really aren’t about me, they’re about hypothetical situations. I like to play around with what could happen or what might happen, and see what comes out of it.” It’s refreshing to see a young woman like Maura work with different genres and songwriting styles. Her willfulness to tweak her sound from song to song is a part of what makes For Now such an attention-grabbing release.
As a seasoned musician, Westerlund’s talent bridges far beyond original compositions. She also has a refreshing talent for crafting covers, taking classic and modern hits and injecting them with her own sound. She recently posted a video on her Youtube page of her cover of Christina Perri’s heart wrenching love anthem, “A Thousand Years.” While Perri uses the complex instrumentation of the original to carry her voice, Westerlund creates an equally compelling take using only her guitar, her vocals, and her webcam microphone. Through Westerlund’s cover, Perri’s lyrics take on a whole new light, and though Westerlund calls it a “quick cover,” she tackles the hit with confidence and poise.
Another one of Westerlund’s standout covers is, surprisingly, a Christmas song. Her cover of “Silent Night” turns the holiday classic into an uplifting, acoustic spiritual track perfect for anytime of the year. Once again, Westerlund graces us with her jazz style vocals and her guitar work, channeling her unique brand of radio-friendly coffeehouse pop through the famous religious track.
Though Westerlund said her debut album is in the works, she’s not sure how long it will take before it becomes a finished project. “I’m definitely keeping the acoustic-pop sound, but I think a lot of my influences have changed. I’m looking at more of a Christian perspective of things.” she said. “I see myself going more down that road now, and maybe that’s why I haven’t’ put out an album yet, because I’m still trying to figure that stuff out.”
If you enjoy Maura Westerlund’s originals and covers, check out her Youtube page, Myspace page, Bandcamp page, and Facebook page. Keep an eye out for her future works, and make sure you catch one of her live shows, either at the numerous open mics peppered across the University Park campus, or at some of the other local concerts in the future.
Author: Christopher Will
Bio: Christopher Will is a junior studying Communications and English at Penn State. He enjoys scouring the internet for the latest pop music news and gossip, and loves sharing new music with his friends and peers. Some of his favorite artists include Breathe Carolina, Fun., Childish Gambino, Gotye, Yellowcard, and Robyn.
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