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Staff Picks

Leah Blevins - First Time Feeling

It won’t take long to realize that with First Time Feeling, singer/songwriter Leah Blevins has released one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory.

Album Cover - Leah Blevins - First Time Feeling

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It won’t take long to realize that with First Time Feeling, singer/songwriter Leah Blevins has released one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory.

Press play and you’re struck with a swampy solo guitar which immediately sets the mood; thumping drums then entering to further amplify the ominous texture. By the time Blevins’ voice - a combination of Dolly Parton and Miranda Lambert - kicks in, you’re totally sold. When it concludes four minutes later, the deal is sealed that Blevins’ talent runs deep - and after the 10th track ends in another 30 minutes, that suspicion is entirely confirmed.

Of course, nothing this exceptionally constructed comes out of nowhere. The Kentucky native spent time in Nashville polishing her craft, releasing a moving four-song EP in 2018 and possibly working on some demons that were holding her back. It took another three years for this full album to appear, but the time was well spent. Meeting fellow troubadour Paul Cauthen, then Texas Gentleman member Beau Bedford, Blevins found the perfect musical and production combination to realize her songs in the studio.

The Dallas sessions went quickly, though nothing seems rushed or unfinished about the final product. On the contrary, each selection seems perfectly formed yet different from the one before or after it. First vocal takes were often used to keep the spontaneity of Blevins’ performance. Her emotional singing on the acoustic ‘Little Birds’ is enhanced by sweetly picked guitar and a string section reminiscent of some of Bobbie Gentry’s music. There’s a roomy openness in the mix also evident in the rest of the album. Blevins - who sees herself more as a poet than a songwriter - never sounds less than committed to her words which are as expressively dramatic as her instantly memorable trilling voice.

There’s a subtle musical darkness lurking around the edges of many tracks. The slowly creeping reverberated guitar, portentous backing vocals and sparse instrumentation of ‘Clutter’ imbues a dreamlike quality as Blevins sings “In this fleeting moment, talking just won’t do”. ‘Fossil’ is reminiscent of the simmering percussion on Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ as she observes the structure of life singing, “As we circle the sun, closer we are to the end” holding the note on that last word for extra emphasis. It’s low key yet impactful. 

Writing about growing up is always fraught with the potential of excess sentimentality. But Blevins navigates those landmines with class, dignity and resolve, singing on the thumping folk/pop of ‘Magnolias’ that even with an innocent and fondly remembered childhood she was itching to leave her hometown: “I don’t know where I’m going / But I ain’t staying here”.

For now, she has landed where she belongs; releasing a striking first album that’s poetic yet never obtuse, expressing heartfelt concepts within melodies and powerful production touches that enhance her sweet, occasionally uneasy, vocals and lyrics. It’s rare that a little known and under-publicized artist gets it so right on their initial try, but that just adds to the radiance of the appropriately titled First Time Feeling.

Even better is envisioning where Leah Blevins goes from here.

8.5/10