Some people get all the luck don't they? You'd think making three albums of near perfect intelligent pop would get you a stretch limo, a fancy crib or at least a mid-spot on the T4 Summer Roadshow but no, mentioning Leona Naess still gets responses like 'Uh?', 'Lenny What?' or 'Elliott Ness?'. To add tragic insult to injury this has now been updated to include 'Blimey, you don't like that Simon Cowell X-Factor warbler do you?'.
This Leona has actually been plugging away for a while now. If you remember a Channel 4 show from the early '90's called The Next Big Thing about Indie muppets FMB you may remember a pretty but bratty brunette from Lahndahn who was trying to sell herself as a furrowed-brow folkie. Well this is her, she's all grown up and gone 'high chihuahua' on us.
After two albums of power-pop and one mini-masterpiece of Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings Of Leon) produced autumnal melancholy, we're onto album four. It's taken an age to release - 5 years - in which time Naess allegedly stockpiled 13 'unreleased' albums (hence the title). So, on initial glance, it's slightly disappointing to find only 11 tracks here, several of which fans will already know and, at under 40 minutes, the whole thing zips past so quickly it's initially a little underwhelming.
Musically it's 'Get The Folk Out', an acoustic jamboree with sprinklings of stardust from choirs, banjos, harps, midnight drum brushes, mandolins, trumpets and 'coffee glasses' whatever the hell they are. At it's peak it's like being serenaded.
Opener Ghosts In The Attic, a single in early 2007 and one of Naess' best songs, is country folk with a sea of bewitching backing vocals simultaneously conjuring up Fantasia and the Angels of Death from the end of Raiders of The Ark. Beautiful and a bit spooky. The only 'hit potential' is Leave Your Boyfriends Behind. Beginning like Damien Rice's Blower's Daughter after a few Whiskey chasers, it blooms into a boozy singalong with a room full of inebriated buddies. The backing singers - 'Harry's Tribeca Alcoholic Choir' - steal the song, singing past closing time as if it were a terrace anthem. (Unnamed) This Song Makes Me Happy with it's 50p beatbox drum pattern harks back to Naess' earlier pop songs and weaves the sidewalk like a tipsy Dancing In The Dark. It would be a perfect backing for an '80's John Hughes film, just as Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy 'patch it up'.
It's an album unafraid to salute its heroes. Single Heavy Like Sunday has definitely visited Simon & Garfunkel's America whilst The Lipstick Song proves Naess' clearly a Karen Dalton fan. It's ever so slightly jazzy, with a dry raspy vocal and flirty lyrics with 'a little ol' cherry on the icing'. Learning As We Go meanwhile echoes Fleetwood Mac's Albatross and provides the album's most dynamic moment with its mid-song break-through-the-clouds burst of drums.
Lyrically it's new bohemian musings on relationships, 'You can wear the tie that only I would buy for you'. Luckily she's a sassy New Yorker so it's smarter than your average bear, throwing in winning hands like 'I've got a ghost in the attic playing Dominos' proving she's more Annie Hall than Phoebe Buffet. It's undeniably hippy but not dippy. Swing Swing Gently even dips its toes into sensual Fiona Apple territory, 'in the caves of Gibraltar, dive dive down in the deep dark water, swim your body to me'. Did it just get hot in here?
The snappily titled When Sharks Attack is one of the highlights musically and lyrically. 'Leave me in the kitchen with all my dirty work', it's a love/hate relationship with teeth and the push 'n' pull sparking its fire. It's classy, confident and impressive with an inspired string arrangement. The album wraps with a brief kiss off of On My Mind, a 'Don't you go away too long' and it's over.
Thirteens is out of place and out of time. Its sincerity will not sit well in the Katy Perry / Lily Allen age. It's all irony and nudge-nudge wink-wink round these parts now. Singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen and it's sad but increasingly inevitable the only way Leona Naess could become massive is by eating a truckful of King sized Toblerones. It's oddly a slight record considering its origins, occasionally underdeveloped and not as immediate as its eponymous predecessor but it is a warm, intelligent, unpretentious, well-crafted record refreshingly free of self indulgent 'look-at-me' flashiness.
For those that do enjoy their 'Mellow Birds' you should definitely try Leona's classi-Naess. It's not the sound of the underground or the signal for a revolution, it's a glass (or three) of red wine in front of a glowing Winter fire. It's a record invented for Sunday afternoons, a record that wants to be friends and hug it out, a hangover cure guaranteed to make Monday morning seem a million miles away and sometimes, frankly Mr Shankly, that's just what I need.