Imbued with the grit of vintage country music and the grace of gospel, Leah Blevins' debut album is a scrapbook of sorts, a collage of feelings and memories from a decade spent working in the big city of Nashville while missing the small town she left behind.
"It's a timestamp of my twenties," says the Sandy Hook, Kentucky, native. "Here are all the stories and all the experiences from that decade. Here are all the mixed emotions I've felt about things I've gone through and people I've met along the way."
First Time Feeling turns tribulations into what Blevins calls "bundles of triumphs," which lend weight to her well-observed lyrics and gravity to her soulful vocals. "It's about coming into womanhood, but it's more than just a coming-of-age story. It's me discovering that I'm capable of writing a song on my own. I'm capable of staying sober. I'm capable of all these things that once felt so far out of reach. Within those walls these songs had to be unapologetically honest."
Or, as she puts it on the bluesy opener "Afraid", "Have you ever been afraid, with nowhere to hide? Scared of nothing, but you're running inside?" The growling guitars - played by friends and co-producers Paul Cauthen and Beau Bedford - sound like wolves at the door, as Blevins introduces the themes that drive this record: the reality that we're all afraid of something, that we're all running from it even though we'll never get away from it. She summons those fears in songs that are both plainspoken and artful, which is apt for someone who considers herself a poet first, a singer second. "Back when I was seven or eight, I was just fascinated with words. Writing was always an outlet for me. It always felt like a release and a relief, almost like going to church."
In the studio she, Cauthen, and co-producer Bedford (of the Texas Gentlemen) recorded fast, using mostly first takes to the capture the spontaneity in her vocals, to preserve the intensity and immensity of the emotions in these songs. With its sanctified organ and Byrdsy riff, the title track recalls both the sensuality of Lucinda Williams and the everywoman perspective of Loretta Lynn, as Blevins sings about making the mundane feel momentous again: "Kiss me like you don't know all my secrets, touch my body like you've never seen it." "I was in a relationship with someone when I wrote that song, and I remembered wanting that feeling of young love, that excitement you had in the initial stages. Everybody wants that spark."
Blevins leaves First Time Feeling open-ended: Finding that sensation will be difficult but not impossible. Even the darkest songs on this record hold out hope for a happy ending. "I want people to find something relatable within these ten songs. But for me they're a reminder that all the pain that I went through - which isn't that different from the pain every human goes through - it's all mine. By making this album, I've taken it, I've owned that pain, I've made it mine, and I've wrapped it up with a bow on top."
- Vinyl LP
- RIYL: Aubrie Sellers, Amanda Shires, Margo Price, Nikki Lane, Kelsey Waldon
- Beautiful Disaster
- First Time Feeling
- Little Birds
- Mexican Restaurant