When Paul Johnson and Darren Beech of Folking interviewed Chris Leslie at the 2008 Cropredy festival, Fairport Convention’s main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist joked that the festival site Oxfordshire is the center of the universe.
As the saying goes, many a truth is said in jest. So it may well be in this instance. Leslie’s traveled a long way, literally and figuratively, since he was a young, self-taught fiddler in Banbury, dreaming of joining Fairport. And while he’s won acclaim for his work with the band and his mastery of an array of other musical genres, it’s clear his allegiance is to the Fairport-styled Folk that captured his youthful heart. Indeed, Oxfordshire remains the center of his universe.
Doubters need only listen to Origins, Leslie’s just-released solo album, for confirmation.
It’s almost unnecessary to say that Leslie’s musicianship and vocals are as strong as at any time in his career. Anyone who follows Fairport or Leslie’s side projects — Feast of Fiddles and St. Agnes Fountain — know that’s obvious.
But it’s even clearer here because Leslie supplies all vocals and instrumentation as he moves gracefully from traditional folk (Sandy Denny’s “Sweet Rosemary,”) to country-flavored rock (Michael Martin Murphey’s “Geronimo’s Cadillac,”) to pure Native American music (his own “Tipis in the Snow”) on the 13-track album. And stand-out track “Lost Bird,” is just pure beauty.
It must be tempting for the multi-instrumentalist to make his arrangements complex, but Leslie’s fans know he always leans toward keeping his sound pure though a close listen will reveal its sophisticated intricacy. The Beach Boys’ songs come to mind for comparison (though the artist himself would certainly disagree with any comparison of his work to the legendary Brian Wilson just as he does with comparisons to Fairport’s past songwriters including Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick).
Fans of Leslie’s last two solo albums –– The Flow and Dancing Days — will find the same sophisticated yet accessible music on this album and likely trace the mastery of many of these songs back to their Origins.
What’s different here, though, is that Leslie really lets his listeners hear him soar on these songs, half of which he wrote himself.
The result is a sophisticated musical tapestry that explores multiple facets of the “Origins” of the artist and all of mankind.
In less capable and cultured hands, the album could easily be the musical poster child for multiple musical personalities.
But under Leslie’s masterful artistry, the album can only be described as an enchanting and often spellbinding tour de force.
Find out more about Chris Leslie and order Origins on his website.
NANCY DUNHAM / @NancyDWrites