Late Bloomer by Leah Ashton

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Late Bloomer is a sophisticated easy-listening record from a talented artist whose musical sensibilities are sharp, and always in full effect.

Well, when I say “easy-listening”, Late Bloomer is an album of soft contemporary Jazz, full of tight piano grooves, impressive, present singing, horn deliciousness, and pure vibes. Based in Los Angeles, Leah Ashton’s music is socially and personally aware, tackling issues concerning the political environment of the USA, her own state of mind as a woman in her mid-30s, and a self-proclaimed late bloomer, as well as her dreams and ambitions. The soulful album incorporates powerful singing, memorable lyrics, and a distinguished musical atmosphere, full of rich arrangements, and heartful performances.

The record starts with the titular track. A colorful lament for being a late bloomer. An airy, soft composition and Leah’s present delivery, wrapped in sensitive jazz piano, and a tight, flowing groove. A delightful starter. The sophomore Shut Your Mouth is full of light, jazzy, deliciousness, and Ashton’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics, asking a particular someone if it’s time to shut their mouth and open up their mind instead.

A sweet, rhythmic arrangement is easy on the ears, and full of delicate, jubilant performances, with the singing taking the center stage effortlessly. A Matter of Time is another song with a personal edge… and a striking sax solo. Poetic, in words, and in music, this stunner is in 5/4, making the whole thing feel like a delicate dance. With a prominent bass, a tight groove, and a dramatic composition, Leah’s contemplations about time are thought-provoking and poignant. Faded Stars and Stripes is a discerning look into the current political state of the USA (although it can easily pass for the state of global politics).

The lyrics are essentially loving and unifying, but one can’t deny the feeling that Leah belongs in a certain direction, even if she never discloses such a thing. Musically intricate and grand, lyrically anthemic and empowering, Faded Stars and Stripes is one of the richer songs on the album. From hope to desolation, Burn It Down gives up and calls for burning down the orchard that has gone rotten. Symbolic, the song is a desperate call for drastic measures, delivered in one of the most striking vocal performances on the whole album, with Leah’s lead voice and the backing choir being equally impressive.

From desolation, Leah Ashton jumps back to jubilant hope real quick with Better Days. This funky cut is peppy, nuanced, and quite full of panache. The tight, busy beat, the intricate arrangement, rhythmic piano riffs, and horn stabs, and the terrific, sudden burst of guitar magic near the end, all elevate this song to an unprecedented level of musicianship. Meet Me in New Orleans is a soft and serene stunner based around a sensual horn section, arranged masterfully and perfectly mixed in.

This sentimental song is cozy, warm, and beautiful, with a stunning saxophone solo that will grab your attention. Tighten Up has some more easy-to-follow chord progressions and riffs, and a toned-down vocal performance, resulting in a restrained song that sounds fresh, yet familiar. Not Backing Down is a heartfelt closer. With personal lyrics from Leah describing her strong will to reach all of her ambitions, and an equally empowering arrangement and composition, this song manages to end the album on a positive, encouraging note.

Leah Ashton’s debut album is not without its flaws. The mix sounds flat at times, with the drums feeling a little anemic on a few songs, or the horns sounding a little too loud at a few others. But these instances are few, and when they occurred, they were minor and not interruptive, the sound is generally rather tight, and the songs are written with a surgeon’s precision as to how the instruments will interplay with one another. The album, which is a direct result of more than a decade of practicing this profession, is definitely a professional work of the highest standards.