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MP3 Richard Leschen - Heavy Waters

Americana, jam-band, like joni, modern folk

11 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Americana, FOLK: Modern Folk


While not peering down a microscope at beetles, entomologist Richard Leschen probes the nature of the human condition through penetrating Americana compositions on his debut release Heavy Waters, a gusto-collection of rock, folk-ballad, Tex-Mex, and alt-country tunes with jam-band influence. Supported by New Zealand musicians and co-production, the music is enlightening, endearing and thought-provoking. Influenced by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Bob Dylan, and old and new time American folk music (ranging from the Stanley Brothers to Peter Rowan), Leschen takes listeners on a magical and obscure journey from the streets of New York City to the waters of the Andaman Sea to experience love, tragedy, darkness, light.

By far, the most far-reaching and accessible track for a wide variety of listeners is the garage-rock song "Thanks for Calling," an homage to a Louisiana friend whom Leschen had lost contact with during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The Dylanesque Bourbon Street Overpass, is another song included on the album that is influenced by hurricane Katrina (this one is dedicated to Clarence Gatemouth Brown) and is the longest track on the album (about 8 minutes).

Though just beginning his song writing career, Leschen’s lyrics are emotive with highly reflective passages, sometimes bizarre and unexpected. Throughout the album there are links to the 1950’s and the 60’s, like this one from the Tex-Mex ballad "White White West," that also refers to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks:

"The battle was bloody and oh the stench, corporate corpses saluted the trench,
The body of the outlaw laid into the ground, wrapped in plastic in a tie-dyed shroud."

In the alt-country waltz "The Old Shaker," Leschen describes an aging New Zealand logger longing for youth:

"I wish I was a sailor or a prairie pioneer riding ocean ripples or on some dusty trail,
A place of open spaces where I hear a coyote call to see without glasses or walk without a fall."

Lastly, Leschen recants the old time American tradition, incorporating High Lonesome passages, like this one in the title track, "Heavy Waters," a tune about an inebriated woodsman who sees an angel:

"When I awoke the ambers burnin'', and the smoke held beneath the trees,
An empty bottle lay there before me, and I shivered in the breeze."

Not only is Leschen proving to be an innovative wordsmith, his guitar work is spontaneous and fresh, and includes lead work on "Thanks For Calling," "The Hand of Man," and the tie-dyed gunfighter ballad, "White White West." He also has a unique style of cross-picking rhythm/lead heard on "Bourbon Street Overpass" and other tracks. Coralie Usmani (from the group Usmani) adds classical violin sweetness to the moving Tex-Mex ballad "Puerto El Negrito (Stand by Your Heart)" and other tracks. The album also features multitalented Nigel Gavin on bass and Yair Katz on percussion. The Donna Godchaux-like voicing of New Zealander Tui Divers on "Thanks for Calling" and the haunting "Andaman Tide," as well as the punchy arrangement of "The Hand of Man," will certainly appeal to Grateful Dead listeners.

Additional Song Notes:

Andaman Tide: The 2004 Asian Tsunami.

Bourbon Street Overpass: This ballad is a series of images that were influenced by Hurricane Katrina and is dedicated to the memory of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

The Hand of Man: This song was influenced by travels through Northern Territory of Australia, reminiscing about the Aborigines.

The Old Shaker: Many songs have been written during trips, whether working in the bush as a field biologist, or on holiday with family and friends. This tune about a dirt-poor logger who is suffering from an age-related illness was written mostly in Opononi, Northland, NZ on the beach watching the waves come in and the children go by. Violin work by Coralie Usmani really adds the backwoods to this track.

Papa Lufa and His Havana Band: Completely contrived, but a happy story nonetheless, this song is about what it might be to be an aging musician and part of a music family in the Big Apple. The inclusion of the rocket-man in the lyrics hits a personal note and is reminiscent of the childhood days when I used to go to Coney Island with relatives to have Nathans Hot Dogs. It was one of the favourites of drummer Yair Katz who adds a bit of jembe magic to the track.

Thanks for Calling: On the surface, Thanks for Calling may appear to be the ultimate kiwi OE (overseas experience) song, and in some ways it is; however, its origin is much deeper than abject homesickness. I was experimenting with script-writing and had just written a Lynchian narrative about a cowboy who greets an Asian Indian in the American desert. A few days later, hurricane Katrina hit the mainland of the United States and I lost contact with a friend living just north of New Orleans. The Thursday morning that followed, I finally was able to make a call to the US to find out that he was fine, though he was without electricity and had lost part of his roof (over the guest room!). Anyway, my friend fared better than many thousands of unfortunate people. Then, just minutes after the conversation with my friend, my father called (fathers never call!) and after he hung up I wrote this song almost immediately and in conversational form.
This track is one of the most complete, having all of the studio musicians, and Tui Divers background bluesiness adds immense colour (Deadheads may also recognise the unintentional likeness of the guitar solo to something they have heard before).

White White West: Bob Weir (from the Grateful Dead) covered some great cowboy ballads popularized by Marty Robbins and others, and these, in turn, influenced this one which features techno-bad guys and spiritual good guys.


Richard Leschen was born in Newport, Arkansas, the home of rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess. Though an entomologist by trade, his musical interests began at age 10 when his parents gave him a $9 Sears & Roebuck guitar. His first performance, some few months later, was at a school concert where he performed the Elvis hit "Don’t Be Cruel" at his mother’s beckoning. Moving from folk-pop songs that he enjoyed as a pre-teen, he began listening to outlaw country music and bluegrass, then progressed to jazz, Indian classical, and rock. He has performed in festivals, clubs, and other venues in the United States and New Zealand as a solo artist, and in ensembles covering bluegrass and world music (Hindi pop, Hindustani Classical fusion, and Turkish folk music).

As a lyricist, Leschen composes in various styles combining the rich Americana heritage with contemporary themes and world music, “David Lynch meets Bill Monroe” someone once said. His ballads and root tunes are poignant and clever, home grown, upbeat, and highly entertaining. His early lyrical influence was dominated by John Denver, but as a teenager he quickly turned to writers such as Russel Smith (Amazing Rhythm Aces), Willie Nelson, and David Allan Coe. As maturity set, lyricist Robert Hunter took over, and from that time it was all over—Leschen was a Dead Head. The Grateful Dead are credited by Leschen for introducing him to the vastness and limitless music of Americana, English and traditional world music. Now, apart from old-time folk music and bluegrass writings, some of his other favorite contemporary lyricists are Peter Rowan, Bob Dylan, and kiwi Luke Hurley.

Leschen plays guitar, mandolin and bouzouki and his unique style of guitar-picking involves syncopated rhythms supported by bass and melody lines, harkening to his bluegrass and Carter Family roots and admiration for rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. His folk-voice is unrefined, raw and expressive, a perfect mouthpiece for his folk-rock compositions. Many songs are open compositions that allow for improvisation. The lyrical content combined with the experimentation and improvisation of modern jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish and the funk and spontaneity of John Coltrane is a unique attribute, even though Japanese it country music.

His first album release is Heavy Waters was written during 2004-2005 and highlights a range of writing and musical styles, but all distinctly Leschen. It is a mix of alt-country, rock, folk, Tex-Mex, and bluegrass. The album, a co-production with Nigel Braddock (Monkey Recordings), features New Zealand musicians Nigel Gavin on bass, Yair Katz on percussion, Carolie Usmani on violin, and Tui Divers on back-up vocal.

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