Leslie Stevens is a punk turned country singer based in Los Angeles. She formed The Badgers in 2006 and they released their first album a year later. With instrumentation that includes fiddle, pedal steel, guitar, bass and drums they take their sound from the early 60s country records of Patsy Cline, Furlin Husky and Jim Reeves mixed with a bit of 1970s Southern California folk-rock. Stevens’ voice is high and childlike at times recalling Emmylou Harris, at others Dolly Parton or a more tuneful Joanna Newsome.
Roomful Of Smoke is their third album. It saw its initial release in 2009…it’s taken two years to get to New Zealand. The disc opens with Los Angeles, featuring acoustic guitar, some subtle keyboards and no drums. It’s a gentle introduction to Stevens and her band with the singer traversing the shores of Carolina to California in the song.
Next comes the first of several country waltzes. Ballpark Lights is a dramatic, organ-driven tune featuring a weepy fiddle solo. Stevens’ vocal phrasing is not unlike Martha Wainwright here and she pleads, “say you miss me once more”.
The band whips out the pedal steel for Old Timers, a sweet, easy-going love song with Stevens sounding more like Emmylou than ever. Winter Fugue is a highlight. Another country weeper, it finds Leslie crying in her beer singing, “got a bottle and a guitar tonight, gonna play ‘em both til I get it right”. Again, a fiddle solo comes in to drive the point home.
The album seems to lose a bit of momentum as it goes along, and as you can probably tell by the comparisons to other singers, Leslie has yet to find her own voice. But she’s headed in the right direction. The final track, It’s Okay To Trip, invokes the spirit of Melanie’s playful early 70s hit Brand New Key, complete with “toy” piano and a drunken sing-along at the end. “It’s okay to trip, but don’t hurt yourself…”
Click here to listen to Ballpark Lights from Roomful Of Smoke: