Thursday, August 20, 2009

Introductions: Leona Naess

Leona Naess is not the artist for those concerned with looking "tough" or "manly." Her music is straight-up girly, pretty, and has not a bit of edge. That's OK with me. If listening to Leona Naess makes me look like less of a man, it's a small price to pay for great songs.

Now, I don't mean to imply that there's something wrong with men who listen to music made by women. I do so all the time. I'm just saying that there are moments when I listen to Leona's music and say to myself "this music is really not meant for my ears." No matter the case, Leona Naess makes some wonderful music.

Leona Naess, 35 years of age, has a very diverse background to say the least. She is the daughter of a famous Norwegian businessman and mountain-climber (Arne Naess), was born in New York City and was raised in London. At one point, she was the step-daughter of Diana Ross. These connections are interesting, but not necessarily a large part of her story as a professional musician. She may not be a huge star (hence my writing of this introduction), but whatever fame she has earned has been earned through her own talents and hard work.

She came on the scene in 2000 with Comatised. This album introduced her special style of music - part folk, part rock, part pop and all Leona. The single "Charm Attack" put her on the map and smoothed the way for her second album, 2001's I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll. That album found her reaching for her 1980s pop influences to create songs full of electronic textures and dance beats. However, she didn't totally abandon the sound of her first record. Songs like "Serenade" and "Promise To Try" brought back her singer-songwriter side.

2003 gave us her third, self-titled album. This was the one that was supposed to really break her through to the mainstream. However, mainstream success didn't quite happen. I've recently listened to that album (on the Myspace Music service) and I can see why it didn't stick around. It doesn't really have a particular sound like her second release, and the songs just aren't as strong as some on her previous albums. I think she was possibly trying too hard, which as we all know can backfire on an artist.

Things did not improve for Leona after that career letdown. Her father died the next year in a mountain climbing accident, and she was dropped from her label. She took some time off from being a recording artist to regroup and mourn her father's death. To get through the tough times, she started writing. And writing. And writing some more. She recorded what she wrote, often using the first take of a vocal. Her friends helped her out with instrument contributions, and she eventually came up with a reputed thirteen albums' worth of new material.

The result of all that new material was her latest release, 2008's Thirteens. Out of great tragedy came beautiful music, as this new album is possibly the strongest of Leona's career. It is full of gorgeous sounds and beautiful melodies and is the most honest and raw Leona Naess release to date. Personally, I can say that Thirteens renewed my interest in her and is currently one of my favorite albums in my large CD collection. It is really that good.

So how did I learn about Leona anyway? I first saw her on Sharon Osbourne's now-canceled talk show, most likely back in 2003 after the release of the Leona Naess album. I don't remember which song she performed, but she left enough of an impression to warrant my checking out her website. Impressively, Leona's website at the time allowed one to listen to all of her music for free. I took that opportunity and was absolutely hooked, especially on I Tried To Rock You. I really liked the dance-ability of the music, the bright pop sounds combined with Leona's sweet voice. Sometime in 2004, perhaps in the summer, I bought that album.

I enjoyed I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll for a few months, and then moved on to other things. I didn't listen to it all that much over the next years, and I mostly forgot about Leona. I didn't bother buying her other albums. This disinterest didn't last forever, though - sometime in 2007 or 2008, I started listening to her CD again and remembered why I liked her in the first place.

Sometime in 2008, I found out she has released a brand-new album. I had no idea what happened to her in the interim, and I was saddened to learn about her father. I was intrigued by her new album, though. I listened to sound clips and was impressed. I put her album on my "to-buy someday" list. Early this year, I listened to Thirteens on the new Myspace Music service. Once again, I can listen to any Leona album in full. I was incredibly impressed! I fell in love with the acoustic, low-key production of the album and the utter rawness of Leona's vocals. I also like the ear-worm melodies that fill the album's songs. It didn't take me long to purchase Thirteens for myself, and I've been enjoying it ever since. I especially love the songs "Shiny On The Inside" and "The Lipstick Song." I feel that Thirteens is the album Leona had in her all along, and I can't wait to see what the next one sounds like.

Ok, that's how I became interested in Leona Naess. What is it I like about her? I think the first thing I like about her is her voice. It is tender, vulnerable, feminine, soft, and comforting. Yeah, comforting. Listening to Leona Naess sing is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket on a cold, icy morning. Her voice can do some amazing things. It's not what I'd call a strong voice, but it works perfectly for the music she and her fellow musicians create and the songs she writes.

Leona prefers to surround her soft vocals with acoustic guitars, gentle pianos and poppy keyboards. I Tried To Rock You is a great album, but not really indicative of her sound. "Lazy Days" from her debut Comatised is a good song to give you some idea of what she's about. Leona herself plays acoustic guitar and some piano. Her album credits show that many of the instruments are played by others - she doesn't even play guitar on all her songs. I think she sees herself as a vocalist first, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Her music is deceptive. It makes you think you're hearing only a guitar or a piano and a voice. If you look at the album credits and really listen to the songs, you'll discover that she uses so many more instruments that you think. I believe that's because of the way her music speaks directly to your heart and soul. It just sounds like the kind of music that begs for simplicity. I think that's why I like listening to her - her music is simple, honest and direct.

Her music is also very pretty. Her melodies are like lullabies. You can easily fall asleep to some of Leona's songs. That relaxing beauty and grace is what makes her music worth listening to. Now, as I've said above, these are songs written, sung and performed from a female perspective. Men might not find much to identify with in Leona's music, but I hope more men can see her music for the beautiful stuff it is. She's not hugely famous, but I don't want her to be. I want her to be able to continue to create music, but I'm also fine with having her be known mostly to those of us who get her and get her music. I'm glad she came back after her third album, and I don't think she's the type to be a huge superstar musician anyway. She's just Leona, and I like that.

Songs To Hear:

"Leave Your Boyfriends Behind" (from Thirteens)
"Calling" (from Leona Naess)
"The Lipstick Song" (from Thirteens)
"Charm Attack" (from Comatised)
"Yes, It's Called Desire" (from Leona Naess)
"Home" (from Leona Naess)
"Lazy Days" (from Comatised)
"Ballerina" (from Leona Naess)
"Blue-Eyed Baby" (from I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll)
"When Sharks Attack" (from Thirteens)
"Hurricane" (from I Tried To Rock You)
"Comatised" (from Comatised)
"Anything" (from Comatised)
"Shiny On The Inside" (from Thirteens)
"Ghosts In The Attic" (from Thirteens)
"Serenade" (from I Tried To Rock You)

Albums To Buy:

Start with either Comatised or Thirteens. Honestly, I'd recommend Thirteens over all the others. Then, buy I Tried To Rock You and/or Comatised. If you still like what you hear, go for Leona Naess but keep your expectations in check.

Final Thoughts:

I think I pretty much said everything. I did most of my research from Wikipedia, but if you find any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct them. Finally - go listen to Leona! Her music is on Myspace and probably iLike and other services, so you have no excuses.

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