Singer-songwriter Sonia Leigh is well known for her eclectic musical style, which draws on country, pop, hip-hop, grunge and rock and roll influences. She’s also written number one hits for Zac Brown Band and has toured with artists including Melissa Etheridge, Eric Church, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn. After the release of her album Mad Hatter earlier this year, Leigh has returned with Live In London: Studio 3 Sessions, a live album recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios.
The album opens with Leigh playing a piano rendition of Claude Debussy’s classic piece Clair De Lune. It’s a soft, delicate piece which will surprise those who know Leigh as more of a rocker, and personally I liked seeing a different side of her. As well as showing that she’s an accomplished musician, it also sets the tone that this album is going to be a departure from Leigh’s typical style.
Throughout the record Leigh mixes individual songs from across her career, as well as several covers, and she strikes a good balance between the stripped-back tracks and more full-on numbers. Alabama Bound is a 70s rock-influenced trip down memory lane, whilst the spiky, stomping My Name Is Money does for filthy lucre what Brad Paisley’s Alcohol did for the demon drink and Sky Submarine is a summery tune with quick delivery and optimistic lyrics. I also really liked the frequent switches in tempo midway through the songs, particularly on Dead Mans Sunrise which explodes midway through in a riot of frenetic drums and fuzzy guitars. It gives the album a really organic feel and makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into one of Leigh’s live shows.
However, what pulls the whole thing together is Leigh’s distinctive voice. By turns soulful, bluesy, husky and gravelly, she’s able to inject tons of emotion into songs like Jack Is Back, which starts off almost a capella before building up wailing guitars and dropping down again, as well as the bombastic chorus of Walking In The Moonlight with its hip-hop swagger and the subdued yet pulsing Rob The Man.
For me the standout track on the record is Sweet Annie. Leigh wrote the song, which became a number one hit for Zac Brown Band, and her take on it here really shows off the clarity in her vocal as well as the vulnerability and softness of the lyrics. With its acoustic guitar and traditional fiddle, it’s a change from her usual style, but one that pays off in spades.
The album closes with Ol’ 55, one of the more typically country-sounding songs on the album. It starts with a melodic piano intro before bringing layers of fiddle, crashing drums, twangy guitars and Leigh’s rocky vocals, which all add up to a powerful and emotional climax. Leigh then rounds everything off with another version of Clair De Lune, bringing the whole record full circle.
Overall Leigh has made a very accomplished album which really captures the energy of her live performances. She shows off her talents as a vocalist and lyricist throughout, and there’s a great sense of fun throughout the record which makes you really feel like you’re in the room with her and her band. If you’re a fan of hers then this is a worthy addition to your record collection; if you’re not, then for fans of classic rock and country with an edge it’ll make you want to rush out and buy a ticket.
Track listing: 1. Clair De Lune, Part 1 2. Alabama Bound 3. My Name Is Money 4. Bar 5. Jack Is Back 6. Sweet Annie 7. Dead Mans Sunrise 8. Walking In The Moonlight 9. Ladder To The Moon 10. Rob The Man 11. Sky Submarine 12. Ol’ 55 13. Clair De Lune, Part 2 Record label: Sonia Leigh Release date: 15th June 2018