Having made a bold debut with his album Somewhere Over the Hudson Valley back in 2015, folk singer/songwriter Leo Harmoany has spent the last half a decade strengthening his craft and creating one of the most uncompromising releases this year with his new album Astoria. Described by others as an old soul, Leo would be the first to downplay his numerous artistic achievements. He’s gone on record saying he wouldn’t call himself a musician in a traditional sense. He came up with no formal music training and says that even now he feels his lyrics with his emotions first and foremost and describes his songwriting process as helping him to deal with his “emotional weaknesses.”
He comes across as a no nonsense person, very down to earth but with a world weariness that is palpable in his work. The man has even gone so far as to say he doesn’t like to include the word love in his music because he finds it over used. Astoria is to date the most effective exploration of those traits utilizing a distinct narrative of nostalgia and deeply rooted pain from a long life lived, each song is distinctive thanks to some impressive gorgeous arrangements and production and despite a lengthy runtime, it never feels stagnant. I wouldn’t say its an album for the casual listener, its something that you need to give your immediate attention to, and you’ll be all the more rewarded by doing so. Starting with the rousing if not slightly sinister “We All Know” the album centers on very distinct moments one would assume have heavy emotional significance to Harmonay, but he as an artist tends to keep as at arms lengths as to not analyze him, but to ingest the music.
As we weave between fractured stories of love, loss, death, failing health and the time we don’t spend enough in the little moments before it’s all over, you can tell Harmonay isn’t looking to mince words. It’s delightfully refreshing to have an artist practice what they preach with not wanting to waste any time, as every track is so laser focused to attempt to trim the album would do it a great disservice. It’s an entirely atmospheric album as well in no small part to the subtle adjustments and stylistic flairs as seen on tracks like “Certain Hours” and those flourishes are not only boosted by the cutting honesty but the delightfully abstract metaphors Harmonay employs. From the feeling of confusion that permeates thanks to the strings on “Running Around” to the ghostly wailings on “On The Plains to Ella,” each song is just a captivating effort.
At one point, Harmonay says “I know I ain’t changed, but I ain’t myself,” and while he may or may not believe about his person, as an artist, he only continues to evolve and change and grow stronger and stronger. This is a powerful album, dripping with confidence and an almost cigarette tinged taste of tragedy and uncertainty of what comes next.