The challenge of finding an audience for new music artists in 2022 seems a million miles away from the landscape of 1977.
A world of social media posts, unfathomable algorithms and audio streaming compared to the collective power of pluggers in to radio DJs on a couple of stations and the unveiling of that circle of vinyl just waiting to be spun.
And yet the excitement and anticipation for any new artist on the eve of the release of their first LP can’t have changed that much surely?.
I would imagine that Paul, Bruce and Rick felt pretty similar in the week of In the City being unveiled as Leah Weller does right now with Freedom – her debut album, produced by Steve Cradock, landing on Friday 21st October.
Now look, I know that this is coming from the guy behind the Paul Weller Fan Podcast, and you’ll think of me as being somewhat biased, maybe even accuse me of being sycophantic, but trust me when I say that this is something very special. Something very, very special.
I thought long and hard about whether I should write a review. I didn’t want to be that guy who looks like he’s trying to get onside and all that. So close to the subject matter that an opinion of praise would seem fake. Let’s be honest, I could just hit Retweet and Share on the posts to help spread the word, keep my head down, never sharing an opinion. But in the end, I thought fuck it. This album really deserves to be heard. And it just so happens to be by the daughter of the fella that this whole podcast is about. But, whatever. It deserves to find an audience and if this means that one person reading this right now has a listen on Friday then job done.
I got a real buzz during my radio presenter days of playing new music – introducing artists to my listeners for the first time and getting a great reaction – getting to play Keane, M. People and Gabrielle before any national radio stations being particular career highlights for me – and also artists like The Critical and Jazz Morley that you likely won’t have heard of but really bloody should.
I was lucky enough to get a preview of Leah Weller’s album a couple of weeks back and it genuinely is a stunning listen. The song-writing, the production, the whole sonic experience – so lush and grand and my god – those vocals 😳🤩.
Steve Cradock is clearly a very astute guiding hand and talented producer. Bringing the best out of legendary artists such as P.P. Arnold in recent years, he knows when less is more and clearly has a great ear for soundscapes that lift, enhance or support such beautiful vocals such as these.
As a debut goes, it couldn’t be more assured, more confident, more ‘this is me, I’ve arrived”. Echoes of Adele’s 19, Celeste’s Not Your Muse, Amy Winehouse’s Frank, Sade’s Diamond Life and even Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside spring to mind.
Like those debuts, it’s an album that builds with every song, every moment taking the listener on a new journey.
In short, it’s a real delight.
Imagine actually having these sounds coming out of your mouth?! I’d sing every bloody word I ever spoke if I sounded this good.
The album is driven, first and foremost, by open and honest lyrics – primarily from Leah, with a few co-writes (more on which later) and that voice… so stunning on this album that you’re often left wondering how such a thing is humanly possible. A blessing, a gift, and at times it feels like we shouldn’t be allowed to hear it’s beauty, we don’t deserve this.
The album has songs – melodies – memorable ear worms that stick in your head for hours afterwards like a good album really should.
The album opens with a great example of that. Freedom, and the mesmerising cello playing of Jess Cox blending beautifully with Leah’s vocals and words. Steve Cradock also plays drums, bass and acoustic guitar, with Sally Cradock on backing vocals and Tim Smart on Trombone. Spoken word comes from Leah’s husband, Tomo Kurata – over which Leah sings “I am so glad that you’re mine…”
Pale Blue Sky is my current favourite song on the album after the first few listens. Leah singing “I will take you there” whilst Steve plays guitar, lap steel, drums, bass and mandolin ( presumably not at the the same time!). Violin comes from Lila Levingston who recently played on Steve’s own album – A Soundtrack to an Imaginary Movie. There’s another family connection on this song that I’m sure Leah will reveal in due course too.
Dive In – dropped as the latest single ( or is it ‘Impact Track’?!) this was written by Leah with her Dad on the day that she told him she was pregnant. I’m constantly amazed by the magic that can happen when people enter a studio – Black Barn Studios in Ripley in this case. The idea of starting off with nothing or a maybe few scraps of ideas and ending up with a song. Something new. Something that didn’t exist in the world in the morning when the alarm clock went off. It’s a real magic and Dive In is one of those songs that washes over you and takes you to another place – the horns of The General – Steve Trigg and Jacko Peake, to Paul playing guitar, bass and Rhodes and even Charles Rees adds drum programming with Ben Gordelier sprinkling his magic over the kit as he always does.
Despite the mix of talent on this track. It’s all about Leah. This is her moment to shine. The emotion in her delivery packing a real punch that deserves repeat listens.
The album also includes three co-writes between Leah and Paul Barry (The Questions, Podcast Guest 116). This fella is a-grade when it comes to writing catchy lyrics and / or melodies and the first that we hear, Call Me By Your Name, is exceptional. Something that sounds so simple. Stripped back with Steve on guitar and bass with Leah…
It’s a brave album too. Many of the lyrics are clearly deeply personal and there’s no hiding behind the words with the production. Nothing is lost in the mix. Every second valued. Throughout the ten tracks here, eveything is laid out, not just in the lyrics and in their pitch perfect delivery. None more so on the stunning album closer, Butterflies.
“When you left me, part of me died.
I was here thinking we had the rest of our lives.
You’ll never know it, till it’s taken away.
Those are the moments, I will miss everyday.”
I’d love to know the story behind this song. It’s equally breath-taking and heart-breaking and it still stops me in my tracks – even after multiple listens.
Shout out to the talents of Scottish folk musician and producer, John McCusker on violin, whistle and harmonium and Steve Cradock on guitar, mellotron flute and lap steel. Beautiful stuff and I can’t wait to see this live now that I’ve got to know the song.
Oh and prepare yourself for the ridiculously catchy ear worm that is Summer At Last.
Steve’s drums driving the song forward with uplifting horns from Tim Smart and Pablo Mendelssohn from The Specials, who join on Trombone and Trumpet respectively.
This is a demonstration of songwriting prowess that once again shows that if Leah ever decides to step out of the frontline at any point that she has a solid gold future as a songwriter.
As I mentioned at the beginning, how we discover new music couldn’t be any more different to when Paul first started releasing albums 45 years ago – there’s only one TV music show with Jools Holland, a radio industry generally still focused on the major labels and a complex, money drain live music set up that makes touring nigh on impossible for new artists looking to make a living.
Heck it’s a world away from his solo debut in 1992 – 30 years ago too.
The music industry set up itself is unrecognisable compared to then too, and whilst the Weller name and musical legacy, must be a bit daunting to follow up on… this album deserves its place in the family’s legacy whilst at the same time opening up a hugely exciting future for a huge new talent.
A new singer-songwriter forging her own path with her own music. This is Leah Weller – on her own terms. Now watch her soar.
Leah Weller – Freedom – is available from Friday 21st October 2022 on vinyl, CD and digital download.