A new year and a new artist to open 2020’s expected cornucopia of delights. Elaine Lennon is a Glasgow based singer songwriter who has only recently embraced her creative muse, waiting until seeing both her kids safely off to start their schooling before she commenced her own classes. Having been a passionate music fan, Lennon decided she would take the plunge and write her own songs, attending writing workshops and eventually taking her first tentative steps into live performance at the tail end of 2018. Her hard work paid off as she almost immediately won a Danny Kyle award at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections and then went on to be noted as “One to watch” by the Nashville Songwriters’ Association International. All in all a pretty impressive start which has been reinforced by a steady flow of live shows across Scotland which have all been critically well received.
And so, it’s debut album time and Lennon fulfils all the promise noted by her audiences (and those Nashville folk) as she turns in a tremendously accomplished set of songs which have her warm vocals and delicate keyboards to the fore over some very sympathetic band arrangements. With support from Creative Scotland she’s aided and assisted by some of Scotland’s best talent. Findlay Napier produces and plays guitar with Euan Burton on bass while Iain Sloan adds pedal steel and Patsy Reid manages the strings. Back in the old days this would have been called a bedsit album, a set of soothing ballads with some whispers of blues and good times, best listened to when needing cheered up after a break up, the sort of album Janis Ian used to do. There’s no doubt that Lennon does indeed raise memories of those confessional singer songwriters of yore who wrote songs which sounded like sad Christmas carols without ever mentioning Christmas, artists as diverse as Lesley Duncan and Dory Previn. More up to date, she’s obviously been a keen watcher of the likes of Gretchen Peters and it’s interesting to note that one of her more vocal supporters is Ben Glover, a man who has collaborated with Peters and as host of others.
The album opens and closes with two excellent songs. Next Friday Night pulls at the heartstrings as Lennon sings of a couple’s lifelong love story, her piano rippling away alongside a plaintive violin, her vocals here the best on the disc. By Your Side is in a similar vein, a song pledging undying love, which soars wonderfully with the piano and strings somewhat haunting. These are the type of songs in which Lennon excels and there are several here including Only Love Can break Your Heart which could have been a power ballad full of melodrama but her restrained vocals and , again, a minimal although lovely arrangement allows the song a quiet majesty. You And Me is another delicate ballad infused with hope while Fear (Breakup Song) is the one song here which is somewhat feisty in its lyrics while remaining true to the tried and trusted arrangements which suit Lennon so well.
Lennon breaks the mould on a couple of numbers. Trouble has a slight gospel blues touch to it, a Nina Simone feel if you will, and having seen Lennon play it live with vigour it has to be said that this cut is just a bit too restrained although the middle eight allows the band to swirl excellently. The throbbing bass and growling guitars on This give the song a dark Americana patina while Lennon pays tribute to a relative who played in Glasgow jazz bands back in the ‘60s on the entrancing In Songs We Live On, singing in a vampish manner over a scratchy original recording of his. There’s also one cover song on the album, a version of Hank Cochran’s She’s Got You which Lennon recrafts into another heartworn ballad with Iain Sloan adding some lambent pedal steel.
One can only salute Ms. Lennon on her drive, ambition and talent. The album is a most assured debut, and if luck remains on her side, some of the songs here would surely beg to be heard on the nation’s airwaves. In the meantime, she has an album release show under the aegis of Celtic Connections at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on January 24th.