Monday, September 19, 2011

Adam Leonard Brings Us Nature Recordings: A Review

Following the reissue of the Redlip album, Dan and Headless Bill -- out 26 September on Folkwit Records -- Redlip being Ashley Cooke of Pulco and Derrero teamed with Adam Leonard -- I decided to go back and listen to some more Adam Leonard, starting with 2010's wonderful -- and rare -- Nature Recordings.

With side B devoted to one long song, Nature Recordings (2010) reads on paper like a concept album but it's nowhere as pretentious as that.

Contemplative, yearning, and never overbearing, Adam Leonard's album is full of lovely stuff.

It takes a deft touch to make serious music that's not pretentious or ponderous and Mr. Leonard has that touch.

With its woozy organ, "The Man Who Invented Himself" opens things with a crash and more than a hint of Syd Barrett and Robyn Hitchcock.

(I hesitate to use those easy reference points but I know that I'm not the first.)

While those two names may bring to mind a certain British whimsy, they were both songwriters capable of moments of surprising poignancy too. That sort of beautiful sadness is here as well.

It's the hint of another era or two and a kind of wistfulness that links Adam Leonard to Mr. Barrett and Mr. Hitchcock.

The rather straightforward "Lillian, I Love You" sounds a bit like the Blue Orchids or something. The song's about Lillian Gish and for that Adam Leonard gets extra points from me as she's one of my favorite silent screen actresses.

As he pines away for a long-lost film diva, the guitar kicks in and buzzes about.

"Dawn Rain/Grissom Aloft" is an instrumental or, rather, two instrumentals-in-one, held together by some interesting and mournful guitar and keyboard work.

The drone of "The Archaeologist" is like "See My Friends" or "Fancy" by The Kinks stretched out of shape into something sinister. It's like Led Zeppelin III mixed with Bill Wyman's "In Another Land" -- drone pulled out and reworked into song.

The 18+ minute "The Eighth Tower" takes up side 2 of the record and it's broken up into four parts.

Part 1 is light and melodic with a touch of the sinister. Part 2 features fantastic acoustic guitar work that recalls Bert Jansch -- the subject of a song on Redlip's album Dan and Headless Bill -- and the eerie vocals hint at something ancient and English; this is folk rock and ambient music, the product of someone familiar with both genres and making them into something new.

Part 3 is largely organ-driven with some nice harmonies here. As Adam Leonard sings, "There is no meat upon my frame to match the ruins which you became...", the organ and keyboard wash over things as a plucked guitar anchors the song.

The sound of seagulls opens the final Part 4 of the song-cycle and this cut recalls classic folk rock from the 1970s like Pentangle.

Nature Recordings (2010) manages to recall both the glories of that British rock past and sound wonderfully unique and fresh.

If you like Espers and Six Organs of Admittance, you will love Adam Leonard's work here.

Adam Leonard is making contemplative rock, somewhere between folk and ambient. This is rock that requires careful listening but it's not heavy stuff.

Follow Adam Leonard on his website: The Message Tapes.