As a self-confessed folk-pop junkie, Benjamin Francis Leftwich doesn’t need to do much to tickle my fancy. And tickle my fancy he does, with his gorgeous voice, which is somehow both delicate and deeply expressive, and insightful lyrics over simple melodies. Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is Leftwich’s debut album, released in 2011, and follows two earlier released EP’s. Benjamin’s recent visit to Australia brought his gorgeous debut release to Groupie’s attention.
The album uses the simplicity of acoustics and guitar to build beautiful but understated moments of crescendo. But Leftwich really hits his straps when he nails the layering of the different elements of each song. The backing female vocalist in ‘Atlas Hands’, Hayley Hutchinson, provides the perfect balance to Leftwich’s voice, and helps make this the strongest song on the album. ‘Don’t Go’ is equally well-layered, and the musical interludes add a whimsical quality to the song, contrasted by the heartfelt lyric “if my bones were wrapped around you…I’m yours tonight.”
The danger for Leftwich is that he could fall into the same basket that holds other ‘singer-songwriters’ like James Blunt or John Mayer. It seems like he is all too aware of this threat, and has managed to avoid it so far. His lyrics are understated and thoughtful, and his tracks are un-formulaic. Despite his crusade to remain alternative however, there are a few moments which don’t quite work. The opening track, ‘Pictures’, is one of the most straight up pop songs on the album. So what does Leftwich do? He cuts the song off at what seems like the halfway point with what is, a fantastic lyric – “you’ve been around and you’ve seen/the way that things work/but you need a compass too/ get around your house” – but as a listener, it leaves you clutching the air, wondering if you screwed up the download and only got half the song.
In saying that, the album is filled with high moments – thoughtful lyrics, Leftwich’s voice and that layering – and is easy to listen to throughout. Despite being slightly repetitive at times, the album carries you from start to finish with its simplistic beauty and uplifting quality.