When she finally got back to writing songs, after ditching a teaching career and a lot more, Sarah Krueger just didn't feel like her old self anymore. So she gave up her name, too.
"I felt like so much had changed," she said. "I was making a fresh start."
Enter Lanue, the new moniker that appears atop the Duluth singer/songwriter's buzz-generating new album. It's also the name under which she will finally perform live again next week during the Duluth Homegrown festival.
Featuring a cast of regional all-stars — including Bon Iver associates Brian Joseph and S. Carey, Low's Steve Garrington, Trampled by Turtles' Ryan Young and Twin Cities sidemen JT Bates and Erik Koskinen — the self-titled album has a billowy, dusky ambience that underscores the vivid imagery in Krueger's songwriting of wide-open nature and seasons.
It's a very Duluthian record, in other words; never mind that "Lanue" was recorded at Joseph's studio in Eau Claire, Wis., the Hive.
"So much of my daily life in Duluth is centered around being outdoors," Krueger revealed. "You can go on hikes right here in the city and not see anybody. You can go sit by the lake and have this wide open space to look at.
"It's so easy to just escape and stay grounded here — to stay connected to your art and find inspiration if you're an artist or a writer."
"Some days I'm a ghost / Some days I spend all my time hating what I love the most," Krueger laments in the breath-catching album highlight "What I Love the Most," laced with rich neo-twang work by pedal-steel wiz Ben Lester.
In the low-glowing summer anthem "July," she sings, "I'm back in the water again / I'm back in the light / And I'm coming up for air."
The name Lanue comes from a very nature-y poem titled "La Nue," by early-20th-century poet Alan Seeger (uncle of folk music hero Pete Seeger). A sampling:
The little cloud-gaps in the east that filled
Gray afternoons with bits of tenderest blue
Were windows in a palace pearly-silled
That thy voluptuous traits came glimmering through
At first, I just thought it was a flowery love poem," said Krueger, who picked up a Seeger poetry book at a thrift store 15-some years ago. "It just stuck with me, and as I continued to reconnect with that poem over the years, the meaning of it kept changing.
"Obviously, the text of the poem hadn't changed. I had changed."
An Eau Claire native with what she called "a very average blue-collar upbringing," Krueger relocated to study education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and never left the port city.
Mostly for fun, she sang in the funky jam-band Heavy J & the Fantastics in the late 2000s, then got serious about becoming an Americana-flavored songwriter, releasing two albums and one EP under her own name.
Krueger's teaching career took over, though. Even with an enviable job at a Montessori school, she lamented going so many years (now seven) without making an album.
"I enjoyed teaching and felt like I was good at it, but it drained me of all this creative energy that I feel like makes me who I am," she said.
"A lot of the songs on this record were written while I was making the decision to leave teaching, so they come from that feeling of wanting change, of not feeling like you're doing what you're supposed to be doing."
Of course, her timing couldn't have been much worse. Krueger was preparing to release the Lanue record and start performing again when the pandemic hit last spring. Her gigs next week — a livestream set at 6 p.m. Tuesday via DuluthRocks.com, and an in-person show Wednesday night outside Earth Rider Brewery in Superior, Wis. — will be her first time playing most of these new songs for audiences.
Krueger has stayed busy in the interim with a vintage-clothing business and jewelry making, plus she has been steadily writing new songs. In short, she said she doesn't regret quitting her day job even after a year without live music.
"Just being creative and being a part of the artistic community in Duluth again has felt like I'm in the right place," she said.
"I don't know if I could live here without being in touch with that side of me again."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
New album: On most streaming services, Bandcamp.com and Lanuemusic.com.
Virtual gig: 6 p.m. Tue., DuluthRocks.com.
In person: 6 p.m. Wed. with Charlie Parr and more, Earth Rider Brewery, Superior, Wis.