Album Review: Leslie & The Badgers – Roomful of Smoke

Leslie Stevens of Leslie & The Badgers sure does have a mighty fine voice, doesn’t she? It’s a little bit Dolly, a little bit Emmylou, and a little bit Loretta, with a little somethin’ extra purty thrown in for good measure. Roomful Of Smoke, her new record, is a kind of paean to the divine, honeyed past of country, odes of joy (even when they’re not so joyful). It’s a first-class tribute from the acolyte to her inspirations, and it’s full of California dreamin’.

We begin with “Los Angeles”, a soft, sweet sounding acoustic number. Stevens waxes poetic about the City of Angels, where “enchantment can be found/but not quite bliss”, making this one a lovely, contemplative ditty about the beautiful yet hard city. The mellowness of the song nearly hides the subtle frustration Stevens works into the lyrics. But before the album sinks into the weight of introspective sorrow, we’ve moved into title track “Roomful Of Smoke”, a lively toe-tapper that really plays up to Stevens’ finely-honed retro sound. It’s not a stretch to imagine Stevens, and her band of backing Badgers, playing at some backwoods, country hole-in-the-wall, in a dark room choked with cigarette smoke and filled with whisky-swilling plaid shirted gents, complete with tapping cowboy boots. “Roomful Of Smoke” is definitely one to take a turn around the floor with your old man or old lady to.

“Love is what the angels will bring,” croons Stevens in the excellent “Winter Fugue”. It’s full of don’t-do-me-wrong lady sentiments that would do her predecessors proud. “My Tears Are Wasted On You” definitely channels the golden era of popular country (i.e. the 70s), with the syrupy strings and country-fried guitar. Stevens also really lets loose vocally, pouring on the glorious, wounded dejection that she does so well. Another standout is “Ballpark Lights”, in which Stevens sweetly proclaims, “I sing for hearts in love”. It’s a good slow-dancin’ number, as the organ sways and swells and Stevens fights off the breaking in her voice.

It’s as though Stevens has taken the sound and feel of the best country albums of the 70s and reworked them to her purposes, adapted them to our current times and places. The themes are the same, but the execution tweaked just so. Roomful Of Smoke is an album deftly done, well-recorded and well-played. It’s a great blend of the humidly haunting South and the golden magic of the Canyon, and it sure does put a big ole smile on my face.

mp3: My Tears Are Wasted On You (Leslie & The Badgers from Roomful of Smoke)


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