Thursday, June 29, 2017

Samantha Leon - s/t (2017)


Written by Shannon Cowden, posted by blog admin

Samantha Leon’s debut is a memorable debut from a genre, singer/songwriter, which has sometimes seemed to exhaust its initial purpose. Since the halcyon days of performers who Leon cites as pivotal influences, i.e. Cat Stevens, tropes and clich├ęs about the form have come to increasingly dominate the musical landscape. Leon, however, is different. The seven songs on her debut EP touch on some elements we will find familiar from past performers, but she transforms them through the sheer dint of her personal experiences. What emerges from this collection is a performer with potential to revitalize this sort of approach to songwriting. Samantha Leon doesn’t merely seek to entertain her audiences. Instead, she seeks to bare her heart to her listeners and share experiences with lyrical language that never cheapens the sweet and bitter in life on this self-titled Kickstarter funded debut.

We get our first look at her lyrical skills with the opener “Bright Yellow Shoes”. Her talent for a telling image is reflected in the title alone, but it’s extended throughout the song and her lean writing immediately leaps out at listeners. The arrangement is woven together with great care and the attention paid to bringing all these elements together complements her vocal and writing perfectly. She takes a different bent on things with the second song “High (You Only Love Me When You’re Fuc*ed Up)”, but the attention grabbing title shouldn’t mislead listeners into thinking it’s a shallow excursion. She delves deeply into this fractured romance without any self-indulgence and simply lays out a stellar vocal. “Run Away” gives both Leon’s songwriting and the musical arrangement an opportunity to stretch out with a track clocking in at over the six minute mark. There’s many of the same musical elements working here that made the earlier songs successful, but the track’s deliberate pace allows them to create expanded textures not heard during the earlier songs.

The acoustic-based track “Perfect” has a relaxed air, but it shifts into a higher gear at the half way point and features the surprisingly successful inclusion of hip hop with a guest appearance from rapper Danny Matos. It’s an interesting and highly successful experiment that comes off because things are so well balanced and the difference in voice and tone between these two performers will impress any doubter. The second version of “Bright Yellow Shoes” is a full band version and varies greatly from the opener without even being unrecognizable. It’s truly the end of the EP, despite the inclusion of another track, and dovetails neatly into the first track as a bookend. The clarity of her musical and songwriting vision is quite impressive and meshes nicely with the personal qualities she brings to bear. Few debut efforts, whether they are full length or in EP form, succeed so well.

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