AMN Reviews: Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal (Editions Mego / Ideologic Organ, 2015)

SOMA023cvrB-350x350By Dan Coffey

Heather Leigh’s new album is a progression in sound and intensity, showcasing first her vocal talent before gradually letting loose with the extreme noise coming from her amplified pedal steel guitar that she’s perhaps most famous for. This album is her most song-based, lyrically oriented album to date. She’s had a smattering of solo albums over the years, as well as having worked with Charalambides and Christina Carter (in the duo known as Scorces), and featured in the bands Taurpis Tula and Jailbreak.

The album opens with the title track, a gently sung folk tune with eerie backing vocals, despite the disturbing title.  “Quicksand,” the album’s second of six tracks, consists of a slightly more powerful vocal and introduces her guitar work in a fashion that’s raw but still comparatively tender. This builds up to the third track, “All That Heaven Allows,” a sonic workout that pushes the pedal steel beyond where the listener expects it to go. It’s slightly reminiscent of Zeena Parkins’ amplified harp playing on her album No Way Back, but with even less restraint.

By way of respite, “Passionate Reluctance” brings Leigh back to folkish, gentle singing, and the closer, “Fairfield Fantasy,” eschews the extreme noise for a more expressive style of playing that, with its woozy tonal shifts, is pleasantly disorienting.

This album marks a break from the side-long noise workouts Leigh is known for, both solo and with her dueling partner, drummer Chris Corsano, in Jailbreak, as well as a split from the experimental all-vocal album Cuatro. It shows significant growth and confidence as a songwriter, and, while the earlier material is definitely worth either checking out or returning to, I Abused Animal is a step in an exciting direction.