Lord, Have Mercy
Charleston rock trio Leslie’s live shows are known for their high energy. Singer/guitarist Sadler Vaden, bassist Jason Fox, and drummer Jonathan Carman are clearly in the process of learning how to translate that on-stage dynamic into the studio. They are most of the way there with Lord, Have Mercy, their long-awaited new studio album.
The badass, rippling guitar intro on the first track “Touch Me” is awesome, showcasing their ’70s-style rock and kick-your-ass attitude. As the song progresses, however, it loses some of the originality of the intro and becomes repetitive. The imagination for a great opening is there, but the space in the middle needs a little more substance to make it a fully realized song.
A couple of other songs suffer from a similar phenomenon — a great first minute dwarfed by the lack of imagination of the last two. It is a metaphor for how far the band has come and their potential to continue evolving. Leslie is at the cusp, and all that’s left is the final push.
“Hearts on the Run” and “Higher,” the second and third tracks, could easily find a home on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, with their pump-your-fist rhythms. The younger listeners are transplanted to a time they’ve only seen in movies, when Camaros and McConaugheys roamed free, Ben Affleck paddled the freshman, and there were keggers at the water tower.
Clocking in at just under nine minutes, “End of the Road,” is by far the most adventurous song on the album, showing the jams these guys can create if they let their guard down and embrace the free-wheeling soul style and swagger.
With opening strings that harken back to the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” “Mercy” turns into a serious rocker with a great refrain that goes, “The days are strange/But there’s still time for mercy.” And although it shares a title with the classic Stones song, “Shine a Light” sounds more like Zeppelin, with an awesome harmonica hook straight out of “When the Levee Breaks.” When they add a little something on top, the variation makes the album more dynamic and exciting.
“Scarlet Rose,” boasts a classic driving guitar line. It’s a great way to go out. Although the chorus takes over a little too much at the end, it’s a great one: “Heaven is all around us/And you are still so beautiful to me/Well it’s been such a long time/And you are all so beautiful to me.”
In concert, Leslie’s raw power is enough to knock your socks off. On a recording, their songwriting is put on display more directly. They tend to lean on cliché lyrics typical of the ’70s era instead of telling more personal stories.
There’s something great here, and I want to know more about them. (lesliemusic.com)
Leslie performs at the First Flush Festival at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Sun. May 15.