October 30, 2008
Poor Leona Naess. Despite having paid her dues and then some, the spotlight has repeatedly failed to find her. Her first album, an earnest but awkward pop-rock affair called Comatised (which features an incredibly rich song-one cut in the form of “Lazy Days”) floundered amidst major label consolidation. PR pieces repeatedly brought to light her well-to-do upbringing, which created an image of a spoiled rich girl playing at being rock star, and her participation in a Calvin Klein campaign made her all the more dismissible.
While her second album, I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll was a step forward, she shortly became better known as Ryan Adams’ paramour instead. Her self-titled follow up showed her finding her voice in both a figurative and literal sense as some of the overproduced pop trappings were shorn from her material, and now finally, with the release of her latest record, Thirteens, it’s possible Naess might finally get her due.
Opening for Ray LaMontagne at the Wiltern last Thursday, Naess had the difficult task of playing to his rabid audience. She was clearly a relative unknown to most of them; as the house lights came down and she took the stage, there were more naked seats than full in the room. Slowly but surely, however, she charmed the growing crowd with shy interactions and a large, confident voice that belied the body from which it originated. Playing primarily from her new album, which she’s referred to as the first phase of her second career, she demonstrated repeatedly just why it is she belongs in music, particularly with a rendition of her current single, “Heavy Like Sunday.” Accompanied by various instrumentalists throughout her set, her songs were consistently sublimated with subdued accents, none of which ever overpowered the simplicity of the girl with the guitar. The only speedbump was a sidetrack through “Leave Your Boyfriend Behind” — an infectious iTunes-only bonus track that very easily belongs on the proper release of Thirteens. Live however, it came off as a bit of a trainwreck, incongruous with her other performances.
If there was any doubt about the impression she made on the Wiltern during her short time on stage, by set’s end Naess had coaxed an impressive amount accompaniment from the audience in the form of time-keeping hand claps that threatened to drown out her own playing. In a crowded chick-with-guitar singer/songwriter Grey’s Anatomy milieu, Leona Naess has had the rare and hard-won opportunity to develop of the course of four albums. Judging by her performance here, she’s made the most of this gift, plotting a course with her talents that should set her, finally, far ahead of the pack.