“I don’t believe my papa meant for me to be the last of my kind
It seems the keenest pioneers disappear at the worst time…”
“Last Of My Kind,” Paul Burch
When I was but a wee roots writer in (I think) early 2001, I recall seeing an ad in No Depression for an album that—unheard—spoke to me. The album was Paul Burch‘s Last Of My Kind, an audio tribute and companion to Tony Earley‘s (also unknown to me at the time) outstanding novel Jim the Boy. I wrote to the label, or to Burch, requesting a review copy, which in short order made its way north, and I wrote the requisite review. Last Of My Kind became my favourite roots album of the 2000-2009 period; the album mesmerized me, and I have waited for someone to dig into the album and record one of its songs: finally, it has happened.
Not that Burch’s versions weren’t ideal, they are. But as a wise man once said, for a song to live forever, it needs to be sung by others. And now “Last of My Kind” has been, by Virginia’s Vivian Leva as one of ten songs contained on her very strong debut recording, Time Is Everything.
As the daughter of noted old-time roots musicians James Leva and Carol Elizabeth Jones, one might well-believe that Appalachian inspired music would come naturally to Vivian Leva, and one wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. After all, one imagines, she was surrounded by folk music as a child, and when your mom records with Hazel Dickens, yeah—you’ve got a head start. But that only gets your foot in the door: you have to do the wood-shedding yourself. It is obvious within the eight originals included and across the album’s entirety, that the younger Leva indeed has done the work necessary to develop her talents.
Working with multi-instrumentalist Riley Calgagno (The Onlies), Leva hits the folk world seemingly fully realized. As did Last Of My Kind, Time Is Everything speaks to me.
Similar in spirit if not execution to Dori Freeman first album of a couple years back, Time Is Everything is a most compelling collection of old-time infused modern folk music. Echoes of honky tonk troubadours find their way into Leva’s songs (“Bottom Of The Glass” and maybe my favourite among favourites “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As You Darlin’?”) without overwhelming her controlled vocal delivery. “Every Goodbye” and “Time Is Everything” are more contemporary in execution, bringing to mind the music of Sarah Jarosz and, on “Here I Am,” Sara Watkins.
“Sturdy As The Land” reveals connections to the past in both lyric, melody, and execution: the phrase “wedding bands” has seldom sounded so lonesome, and when she strains to sing, “Where did our love go?” the listener’s heart beats amid the ache of her breath’s rhythm.
Kicking off with some lively fiddle, “No Forever” takes us deeper into old-time and even bluegrass territory, where “Cold Mountains,” a hurtin’ Texas Gladdens number found within the Alan Lomax collections, is extended both lyrically and musically.
Still, the song I can’t stop listening to—as indicated in the opening paragraphs—is “Last Of My Kind.” Old-time mountain music is nothing without emotion, and Leva wrings every bit of regret and anguish Burch placed in this song of significance. Never overwrought, Leva connects with the song in a natural manner, allowing darkly-laden fiddle to work with her voice to communicate funereal reflections.
Time Is Everything. There’s a true life fact. Vivian Leva’s time has arrived. Listen.