I was so very excited to purchase the latest album from Chicago-based out singer/songwriter Stephen Leonard. As soon as I saw Leonard say it was available, I was there to scoop it up. I first heard of Stephen through Tom Goss, and was able to get a listen to his 2010 release, 'With A Pen'. I loved the quality of his voice, with a rich tone given added depth with a cool edge. I also thought the songs were well-written, smart and well-constructed. Before I had the chance to review it, I heard new music was in the offing, so I held out with a surprising use of patience. And when 'His Fire' hit the streets on October 2, I couldn't wait to give it a few spins, and see if I was still impressed with Stephen Leonard.
So, after spending a week with the new album, I am thrilled to tell you Tom didn't lead me astray, for as much as I loved 'With A Pen', I think 'His Fire' was even more impressive. From the opening moments of the soulful "Free", I knew I was in love. There is a subtle but strong political thread in the album, starting at the top, when he declares he can tolerate what others say, as long as he remains free. "Ready To Tip" begins with a sweet acoustic guitar, but it can't hide the steamy lyrics, lending hands and tasting apples... There is a rough burnish on "Like A Dog", adding a sweet patina to a song combining Blues and Rock, with a real classic feel. Next up there is the first single, the beautiful "Wanting It All". Instead of me yammering more, give it a listen.
Such an amazing, evocative song! It is followed by the guitar-driven "Out Loud", a joyous Pop song about love and communication. The chorus is amazing and infectious, and the whole song just makes me happy. From the opening lines of "Last Innocent Crime", you know something different is going on, and your intuition is right. But then Leonard slows it down for the title cut, "His Fire". What starts off as soft and sweet grows in intensity and emotion, speaking from and to the heart. His voice is so freakin' beautiful on this song. With the opening of "Cashing In" a simple showcase of the acoustic guitar and Stephen's voice, we are soon transported, thanks to an amazing vocal. As much ash we were just on an amazing high, "For Me" brings it back down, offering a quieter opening, more prayer than anything else. But we soon realize it is an inner-dialogue, a self affirmation. "In Your Way" opens with a simple piano, a nice complement to Stephen's voice. It becomes such an honest expression, it is hard to not be touched by it. This leads us to the final song on the album, "I'm Fortified". Again, listen to this joyous song rather than my ramblings.
Leonard's voice is so strong, so on point, I find his music irresistible. His music ends up being so positive, so emboldening. The depth of his voice only seems to extend his hand to my heart, making me feel his words that much deeper. 'His Fire' can be purchased from iTunes, CD Baby, and Amazon. You can purchase the first single, "Wanting It All", from the above links, or at Bandcamp. To learn more about Stephen Leonard, visit his official website. You can also 'like' him on Facebook, and 'follow' him on Twitter.