CD Review : Leslie and the Badgers – “Roomful of Smoke”
By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames
“Unfortunately No Depression just called it quits, because if there ever was a
band that magazine was going to break, this is it.” – The Portland Mercury
First of all I would invite “The Portland Mercury” to purchase a computer, and perhaps start out with something slow, maybe a dial up connection first, so they can see No Depression is alive and well on that “series of tubes” called the internet.
As most readers know, I have very little respect for the so-called “New Country” genre. It has no identity of its own. It’s difficult for one to know if they’re listening to Toby Keith or Trace Adkins.
It used to be a song would play on the radio and you would respond with, “that’s George Jones”, or “that’s Merle Haggard”, or “that’s Johnny Cash”. Not anymore though; Today you respond with, “who is that?” or “that sounded just like the last record”, thinking maybe the radio station was playing some sort of a ”two-fer” Tuesday, only to look up and discover it’s Thursday and they were two completely different artists, yet the same. Diluted!
The so-called mainstream recording artists are all so busy competing for the largest pile of money that they have completely left out the most important ingredient and the secret to their longevity, the heart and the soul of the art. I get almost completely sullen over all of this when all of a sudden I get something from a friend, or a record company, or a publicist that restores my faith in the art of creating art.
This brings me to my latest discovery. Leslie and the Badgers are a band out of southern California of all places. A lot of great music came out of the South of California back in the late 60’s and early 70’s but some of those creators of said great music sometimes are the recipients of the blame for the watering down of today’s country music. However, not this time.
Leslie and the Badgers are Leslie Stevens on vocals (and many other instruments, including the saw!). Glenn Oyabe plays the lead guitar, baritone guitar, high-strung guitar, lap steel, cigfiddle, percussion, and backing vocals. Ben Reddell is on bass guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, Wurlitzer organ pedals, and backing vocals. Travis Popichak plays the drums, percussion, glockenspiel, and backing vocals. Charlene Huang is on the violin, percussion, and backing vocals. Eugene Fillios plays the pedal Steel and mandolin. Kevin Savigar plays the Rhodes & Harmonium and piano. Producer, David Bianco aids on backing vocals, as does James Bianco. Mandy Hoffman plays the accordion, and finally David Raicke tops it all off on the horns. This ain’t no band, this is a freakin’ orchestra. And make no mistake about it. It’s Leslie and the Badgers. You will not get them confused with anyone else.
This group of musicians has created their very own interesting brand of music and will most likely be lumped into the Americana genre simply because it’s so eclectic that no one will know exactly where to place them.
Yes there are fiddles, but on some tracks you our left no choice but to call it by its classical name, the violin. And do you think for an instant that Trace or Toby, or Big and Rich would have the ingenuity to write a song that not only contained a wailing saw solo accompanied by the glockenspiel (“If I was Linen”)? Hell no! A lot of their music won’t even have a goddamned fiddle or pedal steel. Sorry folks, but that is not country music.
This album has more class in a follicle of its metaphorical hair than most new country has in its entire existence (which has been far too long for this writer). That class is established early on by Leslie Steven’s soothing voice. You can’t help but be reminded of Emmylou Harris when you hear her voice but you will never be confused by it. Ms. Stevens can sing country, R & B, blues, or anything else that may come her way, but her heart so very obviously belongs to The Badgers.
This is a wonderfully produced record thanks to David Bianco, who has worked as an engineer on three Bob Dylan albums and two Tom Petty records. He has produced many projects over the last three decades, including Blues Traveler’s 2008 release of “North Hollywood Shootout”, before this project came his way. His professionalism and expertise along with background vocals lies on nearly every single track.
I literally loved every single song on this record. You best have your ear to the ground on this one. It’s that good and you can expect to hear a lot more from this amazingly talented band.
‘Rebel’ Rod says, get your butts to your local record store and grab yourself a copy (or maybe more, for your friends) of Leslie and the Badgers’ “Roomful of Smoke”. You will pat yourself on the back for doing so.