Leah Belle Faser - Crossing Hermi's Bridge
Without doubt if asked to name the artist that has made the biggest impression in 2020 then the answer unlikely as it may seem is a 16 year old girl from Atlanta who's debut collection of songs ( it has 7 songs so decide among yourselves if its a long EP or a short album ) is easily as good as anything released this year.
All penned by herself, with no need for squads worth of co writers, they are full of little details that make them so vivid. She notes in her press release "I write about simple things in a simple way, that allows room for listeners to reflect on their own life experiences." which I think does her a bit of a disservice, there are a lot of clever ideas and writing techniques within these songs and at no time does she verge on pastiche. Leah has the ability to write about things she has yet to experience and yet do it in a way that is completely authentic.
The EP was recorded at The Insanery in Nashville by Grammy Award-winning producer Casey Wood who has a host of credits to his name from Randy Travis to Little Richard, and this is a worthy addition to sit with those names. There is no need for any superfluous electronica to make the songs "radio friendly", instead we have a kick ass live sounding band who are able to excel across a number of musical styles.
Everything about this release is somewhat superior, even the EP's title which references a bridge in Faser’s hometown named after Hermione Alexander, a civil rights and social justice activist who died in 1983. The plaque on the bridge reads ‘She built bridges across gulfs of prejudice and ignorance’ - a fine life to try to emulate.
For those that missed her opening two singles "Better Than Mine" detailed the harsh side of life after a break up shot through the prism of the parting words "I wish you the best". As an opening single it was something of a statement of intent that this EP more than delivers on.
There is still so much to admire in this song, the way the chorus is unconventionally delayed, it would be easy to go there after the line
"As I hear the echo of my final words" but instead Leah adds in an extra line "in our final fight" the alliteration emphasising the break up even more.
The chorus when it comes is glorious with Leah balancing indignation with hurt in a splendid performance with brother Hoke adding backing vocals to great effect over a cracking band performance.
The second single "Back Home" was equally remarkable, the vivid description of the working day and the commute home and that dilemma of the central character carrying the hopes of her small community "they told me too fly and I've flown" while desperately missing the little reminders of home, finding herself "disconnected from all that is familiar" is a mini masterpiece. Once again the band perform to perfection, from the rich organ backing to the guitarist who picks each note to perfection.
The album opens with "The Lift", a gentle Country opener detailing love found in the unlikeliest of circumstances, namely in the shape of a Good Samaritan, stopping to help fix a broken down van. As with all Leah's songs you can just revel in the details, from the location of the breakdown to the fact that it was a "Stardust t shirt and it drove you insane" that she was wearing, every little detail giving the song an air if reality even if it is complete fiction.
Leah's descriptions just leap off the page, "raindrops dance on your lips" and the imagery connections in words like sparks and flame all add to the overall effect. The piano and exceptional guitar provide a fantastic background for Leah's almost dreamy vocal.
The mood changes completely for "Second Hand Store" where Leah shows a new facet to her talents with a high tempo piece of pop driven along at a furious pace by the organ sound, the power percussion and clipped guitar. The song details a couples break up as one half is lured by the grass being greener in the world of designer labels only to find out too late that all is not as it seems.
The scene is set very quickly, as the couple go from being hand in hand on the sidewalk to him having "quickly turned the page to begin a brand new chapter" with a "bleached blonde" note the linkage between page and chapter.
The change is beautifully detailed in the chorus "With Burberry & Tiffany you had your epiphany" but it comes with the warning "I ain't gonna be your second hand store". Leah details his sudden transition with a scornful delight, the way she says "Caviar" and the line "walked on by her stilletos" are wonderful as is the chance to say "guess you wanted my love after all?" It's pithy, punchy and pretty much perfect with a variety of time signatures that in lesser hands might have sounded disjointed but here it has lovely flow.
"What Could Have Been" sees an acoustic guitar opening and Leah singing so sweetly as she reminisces about a summer job and a chance encounter and how things could have turned out differently.. Once again just marvel at how much detail is in the opening verse,
"Met you the last week of my summer job down on the Emerald coast
stuck at my boardwalk stand you're out there tying up the boat
Storms forced you inside where we talked until the sky was finally still
Told me your baseball stories while I burned hot dogs on the grill"
The next line "Thinking about you still" is simply angelically sung.
That chance meeting becomes the setting of a "What if" song and we see glimpses of the future life, of what might have happened, a future the character is reminded of each time there is a "lightning strike". Forever left to wonder "Could we have gone the distance?" Once again brother Hoke adds backing vocals to great effect
"Play On Words" is the big dramatic number of the record opening with a huge drum sound and electric guitar setting the scene for events to unfold in this tale of a serial lothario. This gives free reign for Leah to let loose with theatrical imagery
"Rolled off his tongue so easy no way those lines could be a lie" yet later she finds "the exact same scene with a different lead playing me"
"Each wink and every gesture handpicked and perfectly timed
She'll fall for his performance - he's mastered playing the good guy"
The song closes with Leah really letting rip with her vocals and it is clear to see there is so much more to come from this remarkable young talent.
The collection is completed with "Ruled", and once again we get to see a different side of Leah, as she delivers another considered piece of pop music. Never knowingly found short of a delightful turn of phrase "I see though you like chiffon" is just one of many you could pluck from this record. Once again Leah plays with the time signatures, and probably breaks lots of songwriting rules which is why she sounds so delightfully fresh and new. By the end we have an almost Coldplay anthemic pounding drumbeat closing out one of the most stunning debuts we've ever heard and undoubtedly one of the best collections of songs you'll hear all year.