Like many artists, Heather Leigh had plans for 2020 that didn’t quite play out as intended. However, circumstance will always lead to opportunity and when lockdown took hold, the Texan musician based in Scotland started work recording an album at home – Glory Days.

heather_leigh_glory_days_1594572090The results are magnificent; an album with ambient elements brought to life by a combination of Leigh’s powerful haunting vocals and a mix of real life background noise, most notably birdsong presumably recorded in her garden as she worked on the album. This mix, along with tracks containing acoustic guitar and Leigh’s trademark pedal steel creates a cocktail of soundscapes that conjure a folkloric spiritualism.

There are many intriguing aspects to this record. In one respect it is wide open and you could spend hours second guessing influences. Some of the delivery reminds of Anna Calvi or PJ Harvey on first listen, though those touchstones become less obvious on subsequent listens. The more you listen the more the album takes on an utterly unique sound of its own. Leigh is on record saying that female British folk singers have been important to her in the past and some of the repetitive mantra style singing backed by a bubbling electronic groove suggests moulding those influences into a something more pertinent to the present day.

Guessing games about influences can be fun but often risks missing the point. Without wishing to pigeonhole this record, it is an album that feels like a lockdown record, like a 2020 record created during a global pandemic where mystical forces well beyond our control are at work. The metaphysical atmosphere of the record nods to those forces, to all forces that operate somewhere beyond complete human understanding and control. It tracks the history of the current moment in the subtlest of ways. Past plagues and pandemics are alive here, the ghosts of those times floating just out of sight but very much a part of the texture of the record.

Phrases On The Mount is an astonishing track, pedal steel and Leigh’s evocative, haunting tones consume you almost completely, as if somehow time is slowing down. That feeling that nothing is moving and higher powers are at work is felt most fully on this song and the next track on the record, Death Switch feels like an acceptance of that. Gently strumming an acoustic guitar, folky lyric-less singing interrupted by the incessant calling of a nearby great tit – the beauty is overwhelming. The feeling of ‘lockdown’ whatever that abstract feeling is comes through here. At times it feels melancholy, at other times it has the uplifting power of gospel music, somehow transporting you to a higher place. The ghosts are still there; they appear and disappear in amongst the techno beats of Take Just A Little and the hints of past and perhaps future debauchery on All I Do Is Lust.

This is an album that creates its own aura and envelopes you in its strange, dreamlike ether. The folk guitar strumming, ethereal vocals and electric beats that interchange and mash throughout this album aren’t jarring, they’re complimentary and work to create a truly immersive experience. Glory Days is an album that works on its own terms and as a standalone record. In the context of lockdown and Covid19 it can take on many more meanings and in certain respects a different kind of mystical power. Unarguably one of the best creative works to come out this bizarre period.