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Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm

Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BENJAMIN Francis Leftwich either has the good fortune or bad luck to be the latest acoustic-based singer-songwriter to emerge on the scene with promising credentials.

Certainly, there’s never been a better time for singer-songwriters to make a good first impression, as the listening public seem willing to embrace them wholeheartedly. But the critical backlash has begun and some early reviews of Leftwich’s debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, have been unkind.

Equally helpful/unhelpful are the comparisons… with Leftwich’s lyricism and vocals recalling similarities with Elliott Smith and, to a lesser degree, Joshua Radin, while his song structure also bearing comparison to the latter as well as the likes of Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, Smith and Fink at different times.

So, how does he fare on his own merits? To my mind, this is a young artist who more than warrants the hype being placed upon him. He’s a quietly mesmerising presence. He delivers songs that are steeped in classic values (ie, strong sense of melody, thought-provoking lyrics) and which could easily boast timeless qualities.
Describing some of the material as near-perfect fodder for TV commercials or soundtrack backing is no small compliment. Some of them even deserve the wide-screen attention that would inevitably bring him.

But then we’ve long been fans of Leftwich, since first hearing his early EPs and turning Box of Stones into a single of the week.

The album lives up to this promise. Pictures opens things with a flourish… an acoustic guitar providing a quite beautiful backdrop to a bittersweet song about love, memories and mishaps (“if you crashed a car into your best friend’s house…”). Leftwich’s vocals work sublimely well with the acoustics, while his ear for a telling melody extends to backing harmonies that assume an almost Shins-like quality.

The aforementioned Box of Stones then provides a dusky offering that gives rise to some lovely lyrical imagery about sea-faring. It’s evidence of the broad lyrical palette from which the LP operates.

1904 drops in a subtle back-beat and more Shins-inspired harmonies, displaying a greater depth of instrumentation, while Butterfly Culture strips things back down to examine the big themes of religion and sexual tension.

If there are slight criticisms, the album could perhaps benefit from one or two songs that really shakeup the format and keep the sceptics and people who have him pegged at bay. But Leftwich knows where his strength lies and remains determined to let his songs do the talking.

Hence, there’s a beautiful melancholia attached to the bittersweet themes of Stole You Away, while the Josh Pyke-like hand-clap percussion of Shine also contains a warm, even sunshine vibe that places it among the other highlights, in spite of some more sorrow-laden lyrics.

Snowship, meanwhile, allows a fiddle and an acoustic guitar to dance with each other, while Leftwich explores a Faustian dilemma in a little over two minutes.
Really, you can’t fail to be even a little impressed. But then Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm is a mightily impressive debut from an artist that we look forward to hearing a great deal more from in the future.

Download picks: Pictures, Box of Stones, 1904, Atlas Hands, Shine, Snowship

Track listing:

  1. Pictures
  2. Box of Stones
  3. 1904
  4. Butterfly Culture
  5. Atlas Hands
  6. Stole You Away
  7. Shine
  8. Snowship
  9. Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm
  10. Don’t Go Slow