In the early 00s, Leona Naess released albums of beautiful songs conveying the ache of desire and the devastation of broken hearts. After a particularly difficult time in her personal life she took a break from music to become a mother. Years passed and I always wondered what she was up to – following her on social media in the hope of finding out about new music. This year my patience was rewarded with the release of Brood X, a joyful and surprisingly poppy collection of new songs exploring motherhood, marriage, life and loss.
Many years ago I remember watching Leona support Ray Lamontagne where she sang to a room of rudely dismissive idiots who talked all the way through her delicate and fragile songs. Nothing enraged me more to see a woman of such talent overlooked that night and then subsequently forgotten. Her self-titled album remains an all-time favourite of mine, one which gave me comfort then and which stands up on repeated listen to this day. Admittedly I came to her music through her ex-boyfriend Ryan Adams but after his recent debacle I have had a new appreciation for those women who had to exist in his shadow. Leona hasn’t commented on that relationship at all in her recent press for this album, and while I respect her decision, it is a sad fact that she may have got more attention if she did speak out about him one way or the other.
Releasing this album independently, and without expectation has allowed her a degree of musical experimentation. Songs like Call Me By Your Name have a soft, sweeping indie pop sound, with lyrics which celebrates the complex emotions of motherhood. On ‘Name Across the Sky’ the almost childlike gorgeousness of her vocal tone contrasts nicely with the wistful, mature lyrics about a relationship breakdown.
If a Song is dedicated to her mother, who recently died after a long illness. The song is both a lament and celebration swirling into one. The starkly beautiful piano ballad CM also deals with loss, her beloved pet helping her to connect with her grief over her mother too. 100 Ghosts begins on piano, with layers of sonic beauty adding to the dreaminess as the song unfolds. It would have been interesting to hear what this one would’ve sounded like with a more raw, rootsy style but you feel she prefers the freedom of being liberated from the acoustic guitar.
The Beginning is a song from her ‘lost’ period – began many years ago when she was pregnant and thankfully saved from oblivion here. By the time she came to finish the song, she found an answer to the conflict between her role as an artist and a mother concluding ‘I keep my heart beating for everything, everyone and the one, there’s got to be more then a life begun.’
Final song Kisses Movies was written during the pandemic with the help of her daughter who appears on the song too. An uplifting end to an album which offers some poignant and powerful moments.
Brood X is the name of a cicada that returns every seventeen years to sing for a mate before going back underground for another seventeen years. Let’s hope Leona doesn’t follow that inspiration through to the end. Her voice deserves to be heard and celebrated. Brood X is a welcome return, a beating heart of an album which hopefully signals a new beginning in her musical life.