Lewis & Leigh : Ghost2016
Their first three EPs showed clear incremental progression, but Lewis & Leigh's debut album presents a sudden developmental leap - Ghost is a monumentally successful set of songs; all beautifully written, performed and produced. There are ten tracks, all articulate Americana, influences clearly present but with emotional authenticity; where, for example, there is a hint of country, it's the resonant mood, atmosphere and wounded heart that resounds.
It opens with the initially acappella There is a Light, which develops hauntingly with a marching drumbeat and bass; the confident heart and soul in Alva Leigh's vocal, and the way Al Lewis' voice compliments it, is a bold and magnificent statement of intent. It heralds the importance of voice and harmony through the rest of the set.
The second track Rubble has been released before on the Missing Years EP - its an epic song tying together narratives of community loss in the American South and Wales, where Leigh and Lewis are respectively from, with binding from an echoing, muted blues guitar. The perfect vocal timings, the space and the poise they give this song, are stately in effect.
After these two exquisite but low-key tracks, Keep Your Ghost is the first song with real swing (although the chorus of Rubble does get your toes tapping), showcasing sharp alternating vocals. Lyrically it is sophisticated - about keeping an idealised memory alive - and again is guided by a scintillating swamp-edge guitar.
The re-envisioned version of past EP title track Heart Don't Want is majestic, with the original recording's dark fervour intact, and is followed perfectly by a tender country ballad The 419. Next Piece of Gold is set with an emotional twist in the vocal and lyric, backed by piano, shuffling drum and a vivid, slightly distorting guitar line; all leading to a subtlety revitalised version of the Devils in the Detail (again from Missing Years). Then more experimentally Heartbeat is a sparse but intense love song, with sublimely graceful vocals over a quiet drum machine beat.
Penultimate song Losing Time is a gentle, musing acoustic guitar ballad with a soulful dash of country in its evocation of a life just lost and pointlessly ebbing away, and the last track Whisky and Wine has a picked guitar underpinning an enchanting lovelorn lyric.
This first full Lewis & Leigh release has been masterfully conceived and realised. Throughout there is the quality that Gillian Welch & David Rawlings have in their work - you always hear something new with each listen despite the evident simplicity; the combination of the songwriting, Alva's emotionally expressive voice, Al Lewis' contrasting but equally effective singing, the serene harmonies, and the animated guitar, make the album a clean-cut jewel - Ghost is startlingly good.
LEWIS & LEIGH I There is a light