Leah Flanagan returns to her hometown of Darwin this Saturday November 19 on the final leg of her national tour to promote her latest album, ‘Saudades’. Foldback Magazine caught up with Leah for a chat about her album and her long and dignified career in music.
By: Steve Habibi Kelk
Saudade (n): a feeling of longing, melancholy or nostalgia (Portuguese)
Raw talent is one thing; refined talent is something else. With her new album ‘Saudades’, Leah Flanagan once again reminds us that she has taken her natural born gift for songwriting and singing and refined it over the years into a higher art form. This is not to mean that her latest work is lofty and unreachable – indeed, Leah has produced with ‘Saudades’ an aural sculpture that speaks to everyone that has ever loved, lost, longed and wished.
Now a resident of Newtown in Sydney, Leah is Darwin born and bred of Aboriginal, Irish and Venetian descent. As such, she has a deep cultural well to draw from and is proud to be an Indigenous artist. This gifted performer has honed her stagecraft alongside such icons as Sinead O’Connor, John Cale, Paul Kelly and Archie Roach, to name but a few.
“After studying classical music, that really disconnected me.”
‘Saudades’ is the culmination of a long career that began with an early desire to make music that saw Leah take herself to Adelaide to study and train in the finer points of classical music and voice. Clearly a beneficial move in many respects, classical training however also had a down side for Leah, as she explains:
“Playing your own songs and just playing to your own identity, that just takes time. It’s a growth thing. I always found it easy to sing, but the whole idea of being able to connect….after studying classical music, I think that really disconnected me because you are so busy learning to sound and be like something else that isn’t really you that it kinda takes a while to come back (to being yourself musically).”
Leah’s vocals portray her messages in this album eloquently – a subtly nuanced lilt here, a slight rasp there, a hesitant tremor, a pause – all forming part of the emotional landscape she wishes to paint with this album. The listener feels every pang of regret, every pinch of loneliness, every swoon of reverie as she intended. Leah has a singing voice that is effortlessly powerful where needed but far from overbearing, which makes it very listenable; this album is not about her – she is simply telling stories from her perspective that everyone can relate to. Her songs and her voice are not in your face but they do demand attention – they make you an offer you can’t refuse.
‘Saudades’ is an examination of the human condition but not every song on the album is personal. Those that are personal include ‘Chills’, accompanied by a beautifully produced video shot in Melbourne in winter, the cold adding to the bleakness of loving someone who is emotionally unavailable; ‘Damage’, with an ominous underlying riff that is tense throughout, provoking images of past hurts that dissuade one from opening up fully to new lovers. ‘Old Fashioned’ (Leah’s personal favourite) tells of the heart-breaking roundabout of on-again, off-again romances borne by those who are destined to repeat their mistakes for want of their refusal to tear down their own emotional brick walls.
Whilst not all songs on this album are personal, all songs on the album are meant to stir one’s soul. A good example is ‘Paper Cranes’, referencing the story of ‘1000 Paper Cranes’, the dying wish of a young Japanese girl, who had survived the initial atomic blast at Hiroshima in World War II, to fold 1000 origami cranes to have a wish come true, as per Japanese legend.
“With that song, the album had a theme”
Production values on this live-recorded album are first-rate as one would expect from Leah’s team. Recorded mostly at the Sydney studio of Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie and mixed by Paul McKercher (You Am I, Augie March), Leah and her band have done an outstanding job on ‘Saudades’, professional in every respect. Leah recalls that everything started to really come together with the recording of ‘Old Fashioned’:
“I really like ‘Old Fashioned’. It’s my favourite on the record because it kinda was the start of my working relationship with Niall (Anderson) the album’s producer and it established the ensemble that would finish the entire record. The performing ensemble secured Paul McKercher, he’s great, he’s done such a good job of these tracks….(‘Old Fashioned’) is when it all came together and with that song the album had a theme.”
‘Saudades’ is an album of songs true to its title – an exploration of human emotions by a thoughtful and insightful artist who speaks from the heart. Poised and professional, Leah and her band have given us something to pay attention to rather than to simply listen to. Let these songs wash over you as you stare into the distance thinking about what was, what is and what yet may come.
‘Saudades’ is available for purchase/download here:https://leahflanaganstore.bandcamp.com/
You can catch Leah at the Darwin Railway Club this Saturday November 19th, supported by Broadwing. Doors 7.00pm. Tickets $20.00 online at http://www.leahflanagan.com/tour/ or $25.00 at the door.
Leah is performing her national tour with her guitarist on the album, Adam Pringle.