Songs My Mother Sang
After a prolonged absence, Jennifer Leonhardt has returned to her art with a truly moving album. (June 7, 2013) Rachel Cholst – Adobe & Teardrops
Almost primeval in the way the album has been constructed, Leonhardt’s raw, refreshing vocals are perfect in delivery. A very fine songwriter, these are: life, shattered dreams, betrayal, and most of all love. Kev A. – Leicester Bangs Magazine (Oct 18, 2010)
A master class in mournful music. John Hawes – AmericanaUK (Sep 10, 2009)
Well out of the storms, occasionally, a rainbow, a bird singing to ya sweetly from the Tower of Song, the vision rising on weary eyes. My friend Helen Degen Cohen has a book called “On a Good Day, One Discovers Another Poet,” and sometimes it seems like there are not enough good days. But I had a feeling about this recording, even before I heard it, and well, this is something extraordinary.
“if you kiss these lips, a kiss has something binding in it
like hope, and ribbons flying ’round the ramparts of my heart…” (Dido)
“and the skies’ll gather in conclusion day goes into night right back to day
a flower’s only purpose is just to flower
and beauty is the ‘I’ in each beholder
just like it is in my nature to die…” (from the title track)
Being born into a musical family out of Ft Worth, TX, home to native sons Townes van Zandt and T Bone Burnett (a band mate of one of her uncles back in the ’60s) helped develop Leonhardt’s flexible approach to interpretation. Not allowed to listen to recorded music until her late teens, she spent long hours teaching herself piano and guitar after school and eventually listening in secret to Thelonious Monk on the radio in her room late at night. Composing and taking part in living room jams –harmonizing to Appalachian melodies or keeping time with old-time spirituals– gave her a broad musical vocabulary, and became the groundwork she needed for keeping in line with her own vision: “Music brings people home to themselves.”
If you love the music of Devon Sproule and Anais Mitchell, take a chance on Jennifer Leonhardt. Poetic, forthright, redemptive songs. Andrew Calhoun – Waterbug (Jul 20, 2009)
Jennifer is a spirit-singer. No gimmicks, just a raw authentic voice. Listening to her I felt instant memory, a sense of place. A rare talent. Laney Goodman – Women in Music (Jan 22, 2010)
I know too little about Jennifer Leonhardt. I know that this is not her latest album and that she has just released or is releasing a new one: Sovereign. I know that one writer I trust, Luke Torn of Pop Culture Press, gave her his endorsement and for me, that counts for a lot. I know that various people in the music community talk highly of her. And I know the music of 2009′s Minstrel’s Daughter. I have been listening to it for a couple of weeks now and know it well and yet know too little—about the music, about the album, but especially about Jennifer Leonhardt, the songwriter and musician.
I know that musicians write from different places at different times and because of that produce different music. Folk/blues/jazz artist Tom Mank is political on some of his works, paints the occasional disturbing portrait of social or romantic angst, glides into his form of acoustic blues at odd moments probably without even realizing it and writes what I would call ditties at the drop of a hat. Susan Werner looks at life mainly through a microscope of intelligence and uses lyrical legerdemain to illuminate truth and expose falsehood, when not playing music for plain old fun, that is. As a musician and songwriter, Paul Curreri is all over the map, from novelty to hard rock to acoustic blues. From song to song, you never know where he will go next or why and I follow him closely for that reason alone. I mean, there are so many songwriters writing so many songs for so many reasons, it is plain hard to keep track.
I’m not sure where Jennifer Leonhardt belongs in the mix because her music is at times so intensely personal, I feel like I’m imposing. With voice strong yet fragile, she weaves through cello, violin and guitar so effortlessly that you can sometimes not separate the sounds. It wavers, that voice, more for effect than lack of control, for her songs are moodswings and sadness and wistful hope and, yes, a happiness of sorts, though always constrained.
The album was recorded in her kitchen (Dori Turner tried this to great effect on her first solo album and Hymn For Her went so far as to turn their entire 16-foot Airstream travel trailer into a recording studio) and the sound quality is definitely lo-fi, but in her defense, I cannot imagine the songs presented any other way. On Minstrel’s Daughter, Leonhardt plays and sings loose music supported by looser musicians and if you don’t hear it right away, give it time. It grows on you. It is mountain music without the mountain—a collection of tone poems from the backwoods and the high plains.
Because it was so obviously personal to her, it is personal to me. Songs like Neruda and More Rope put me on a higher plane, not unlike watching the more surreal scenes from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, Minstrel’s Daughter is a demented cave dance with rock-a-blues rhythm and Line Of Fire, a magnificently disjointed statement of relationship unreality set free. She even throws in a bike ride through psych pop (Me & Abigail) which should not fit but surprisingly does. A loose acoustic dance through the fields not unlike that in the closing scene of the movie Uptown Girls, it is melodic paisley in the rough and, to my ears, a triumph.
Minstrel’s Daughter is in such a unique place that I cannot imagine Leonhardt doing another like it, but possibly she already has. I won’t know for awhile. Sometimes an album comes along that you have to listen to until it is time to let go. This is one. I’m listening and I can’t let go yet. Sometime later, maybe. Frank Gutch Jr – Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange (Jun 17, 2010)
Jennifer Leonhardt’s Minstrel’s Daughter is a tribute to her parents, a statement of innocence and wonder wrapped around gratitude. Singing with compassion, she can also also rock out, as on the child-like “Make It the Mountain,” or wax poetic during the poignant “Neruda.” Leonhardt shows much potential while touching on folk-chamber parameters for this intriguing and mysterious music. Michael G. Nastos – All Music Guide
Neruda and the equally cello heavy Dido serve an opening course of minimalist, atmospheric rural chapel folk before Make It The Mountain arrives, shuffling round on a brushed country melody, to be followed by the title track’s psych blues jam, the vocals distant in the mix behind wailing guitar and sounding like she’s singing to herself. Production values are largely non existent, but it does give the album a similar down-home cabin feel to the likes of Bon Iver and Co as Leonhardt’s strength with words and beguiling melodies slowly work their magic.
There are a couple of things you’ll need to work at, notably the dissonant, rumbling gospel Let The Wretched Come Home, but there’s treasure to be found in the spare maternal-them’d, traditional-flavoured Black Madonna and Me And Abigail, both with just Jeff Rady’s resonating guitar accompaniment. The broken and destructive relationships respectively fueling the mournful, fiddle stroked backwoods hymnal folk of More Rope and the late night hillside stargazing mood of Line Of Fire provide album highlights, while the acoustic Kerby Lane Jubilee wraps it up in classic early Joni style. Or at least until two further 60s-tinged hidden tracks turn up, one which (possibly called 24 Hours) I assume is actually [producer/guitarist] Jeff Rady singing and one whose cuts seems to run out of tape before the end and which suggests Leonhardt might have some Tanya Donnelly records among her collection. Mike Davies – NetRhythms (UK) (Nov 9, 2009)
Recorded at home in Austin’s musician’s ghetto neighborhood, Leonhardt doesn’t believe in following convention as shown by citing Townes Van Zandt and Neko Case as influences. An industrial take on Americana, it’s a little reminiscent of Emmylou Harris going industrial when recording with Daniel Lanois but even more stripped down and atmospheric. A left leaning set in an already left leaning genre, Leonhardt delivers the kind of set the cognoscenti will refer to in hushed tones as they pass the mp3s around. Chris Spector – Midwest Record (Oct 23, 2009)
A protest/concept album, all bare bones production and raw sound quality, [whose] purpose is to showcase a very real time and place rather than slick studio work. Capitalizing on first takes and strange circumstances, arrangements are experimented with, turning folk and country formats into something more original and esoteric, taking lots of chances, throwing out any preconceived notions of how a record should get made. Bob Maplethorpe – iTunes New Music (Jul 5, 2009)
Leonhardt manages to NOT fall into the trap of presenting “pretty, lonely girl music”. Most “folks” who pick up an acoustic guitar start in a warm, intimate space and eventually take the songs to a cold, mechanical studio where a producer grinds off al the interesting bits and leaves us with something that is shiny but ultimately rather dull.
Not so with Jennifer on her second album. The sound is understated, as lo-fi as it is low-key. Yes, the basis is still talented voice, good songwriting, a bit of guitar and some friends on back up. Yes, it still descends from Dylan and works in bits of roots music, american and honest-to-god twang (“Make it the Mountain” and “Line of Fire”), but this isn’t the same thing bandied about at open mics in coffee shops. The grit at the edges add a legitimacy to these pieces that most folk music loses in the recording process.
My favorite is “Let the Wretched Come Home”, a ghost room romp with dashes of dirge and echoes of the Breeders. Jordan Block – Sepiachord (Aug 13, 2009)
Replicating the approach of the late Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer in the latter’s Portland, Oregon kitchen on the classic When I Go album, Minstrel’s Daughter’s impressionist musical territory is a wistful tale of love’s trials. AW – Maverick Magazine (Jan 19, 2010)
Gods & Nations
The arrival of a major new talent. From the sound of the trenchant folk/blues of Gods & Nations, and the driving, impassioned emotion at the heart of “Patron”, Leonhardt is a gale force to be reckoned with. Luke Torn – Pop Culture Press (Mar 12, 2008)
A Paste Recommends Indie Album, April 2008 Paste Magazine (Apr 4, 2008)
Top 20 Americana Songs of 2008 ["Homeland"] Scott Majors – KRVM (Eugene OR) (Jul 23, 2008)
A great album. Martin Vowles – RootsCD.com (UK) (Jun 1, 2009)
A stirring songwriter, Leonhardt plays blues with vivid modern lyrics and harmonies. For her latest album, she wove the influence of her family of artists and musicians and the impact of Katrina into flowing Americana ballads. Angela Grayson, Austin American-Statesman (Jan 28, 2008)
It’s a muggy summer night. Rustic, propulsive rhythms and sinuous melodies surge through the humid air, headed straight toward your unsuspecting soul. From the music comes a woman’s voice, thick in its sensuality, raw in its expression. Such is the feeling you get when listening to Jennifer Leonhardt’s new album, Gods & Nations.
Impressive in its overall sound, the album comprises a mix of acoustic and electric-textured songs, evoking folk and blues in ways that sound contemporary, relevant, and most importantly, compelling. Such a mixture makes for great effect, like when the subtle yet affecting track, “Homeland,” bleeds into “City Stories,” which boils and builds toward a sonic collision. Percussion plays a vital role throughout the album, although more for purposes of accentuating rather than dictating the tempos of the tracks.
Weaved seamlessly through the album is Leonhardt’s voice, a striking and soulful instrument, which deftly varies in tone to suit the architecture of each song. On the bluesy “Love Junkie,” Leonhardt’s voice sounds gritty and bare. On the raucous “Here Comes Trouble,” it sounds like a roaring yet sultry siren.
The axis where the most stirring music meets with the most impassioned vocal is “U Wear It Well.” Possibly the finest track on the album, this song aches in an echo and sway of vulnerable tenderness.
Jennifer Leonhardt wrote all but one track on God & Nations (a riveting take on “Strange Fruit” being the lone exception). With her skill in creating and crafting quality songs, with her versatility in conveying those songs, Jennifer Leonhardt proves herself a genuine talent. Gods & Nations is the impressive result of her abilities and, based on this effort, it should merit the musician a promising future. Donald Gibson – Blogcritics Magazine (Jun 29, 2007)
Gods & Nations is as raw and genuine as you’re going to find. David Baker – 1340 Mag (Dec 20, 2007)
My favorite singer-songwriter out of Austn. Crossroads Bob – KYRS (Spokane WA) (Oct 24, 2008)
Jennifer Lion-hearted sings big songs. They sneak in and swallow me up. Jesse DeNatale/Musician, San Fransisco CA (Aug 30, 2007)
An up-and-coming unique artist out of Austin. Carolyn Holzman – AustinMusicDownload (Nov 24, 2007)
Great songs, great singer, great soul. I spin the record often. Ralph Drake – Rough Draft Freeform Radio (Jan 13, 2007)
Gods & Nations is packed with the genius I’ve come to expect in her work. Doug Reed, Composer, NYC (Apr 12, 2007)
Fantastic, heart-felt album. Leonhardt’s music is totally unique, and totally moving. Eric Anders/Musician, San Francisco CA – (Nov 11, 2007)
Hard Times Two review: Moments of brilliance “Leonhardt has a beautiful voice, a cross between Rickie Lee Jones and Allison Krauss. This is minimally produced, a lone acoustic guitar and Jennifer’s vocals are all you get but that gives the album a very intimate feel which works well for her. I really like what I hear. JR Oliver – Ear Candy Magazine (Oct 16, 2005)