Bon Iver’s fighting for the number one album spot. The likes of Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes have played high up on the Glasto bill. Never has there been a better time to pick up an acoustic guitar and jump on the nu-folk bandwagon. That said, it’s a crowded party – newcomers need something quite special to set them apart from the rest.
Enter 21-year-old Benjamin Francis Leftwich. The York-based singer-songwriter’s debut LP, Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, is already making waves ahead of its release. With Radio 1 DJs Zane Lowe and Greg James on board, the future looks bright for Leftwich.
There is little doubt that he has worked hard for this recognition, with two exceptionally well-received EPs in 2010 and early 2011 – as well as a number of popular covers. But does Leftwich’s debut match up to the hype?
On first listen the album seems standard enough. Soft subdued vocals, simple guitar lines and relaxed but angelic harmonies. It’s charming, elegant even, blending seamlessly from track to track.
Opener ‘Picture’ introduces us to Leftwich’s delicate vocals. It is a stripped down, back to basics acoustic track. It works because of its simplicity – something Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm strives on. From the vocal harmonies of ‘1904’ to ambient electric piano of ‘Butterfly Culture’, Leftwich creates a straightforward and refreshing sound.
It is difficult to pin down Leftwich’s influences. There are clear musical similarities with his contemporary Johnny Flynn’s debut A Larum. However Leftwich possesses a certain naivety in his voice that Flynn lacks. His delicate vocals come at odds with the, sometimes, dark lyrics – creating a striking juxtaposition.
The success of Bon Iver et al will pave the way to greatness for Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm but Leftwich’s unique sound should guarantee him recognition in his own right.
Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is the perfect soundtrack to the summer.