Lehto & Wright – Children’s Songs

Lehto & Wright - Children's Songs

European folk is arguably the oldest style around today. Bands of the 1960s and 70s like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention modernized the art, but their material was influenced by lore and poetry dating back centuries in the annals of UK history. Although you might expect such a band to have many members, in the case of Lehto & Wright, the band is simply a trio. Even so, they’ve crafted some fantastic pieces with their newest LP, Children’s Songs.

The Minneapolis, MN based duo of Steven Lehto and John Wright have a wide array of influences, ranging anywhere from the aforementioned progressive folk pioneers to King Crimson, Miles Davis, and Richard Thompson. Collectively, their backgrounds include jazz, blues, fusion, pop, Latin and rock. Joining them is Matt Jacobs on drums and percussion, and his background is similar. The trio has only put four songs on Children’s Songs, but its hour long runtime is quite enjoyable.

The album opens with the shortest track, “Wasn’t That A Time,” and it’s deceptively basic. First time listeners will hear a straightforward rocker with an emphasis on melody, harmony and acoustic guitars, but close listening reveals some complicated rhythmic shifts in the vocals. It’s easily the simplest track on Children’s Songs though, and a good one to start with.

“The Broomfield Hill” begins with some sorrowful chords and jazzy bass. Wright unfolds a tale with rapid pace, which shows that Lehto & Wright are just as focused on epic storytelling as their folk rock brethren. Soon the progressive rock influence takes effect as the sound becomes heavier and more complex overall, incorporating electric guitar solos over key changes and hyper bass. It’s very captivating.

As a preface to the actual discussion of the song, it’s worth mentioning that the title track is over a half an hour long, and although it’s basically just an instrumental guitar composition, it’s intriguing throughout. The piece consists of nearly twenty sections which include references and samples of Chick Corea (hence the title), Bèla Brook, John Coltrane, Robert Schumann, and Led Zeppelin. The full credits are listed section by section in the CD booklet. Needless to say, it carries a lot of momentum.

“Children’s Songs” begins with a silly portion of Charlie Wills singing his sea shanty “The Rigs of London Town”. Lehto & Wright then introduce varying sections of guitar work, including electric guitar harmonies, acoustic arpeggios and some fancy stuff that would fit well at a small town “ho down.” After some hearing some footsteps walking away, some more acoustic guitar melodies are played. Soon the drums and bass receive more attention as the guitar paints over them, and eventually they rock out a bit, changing time signatures frequently and including unconventional instruments for accompaniment. This middle section is quite energetic and technical, and it’d be stunning to see it played live. The closing third portion is mellower and strict (it even has a marching drum) at first, but it reprises the fusion aesthetic before it closes solemnly with an excerpt from Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” The track is astonishing; it’s a wonder how they even put together such a piece structurally (let alone play it). However, it’s also easy to see how listeners who aren’t too keen on guitars might get bored.

The album concludes with “Betsy Bell and Mary Gray,” which begins a cappella with overdubbed harmony about the two characters. The chords and arpeggios of the next segment effectively set the stage for a tale of Old English despair, which Lehto & Wright deliver once they start singing around five minutes in. The music is very affective and lush (though not orchestrated), and their vocals sound beautiful together. A few minutes later, the music builds beyond mere acoustic string instruments as drums, bass and odd effects are utilized. Halfway through, the band is at full force with more enchanting rhythms and progressive coating, all the while staying firmly planted in their folk world. The duo infuses dozens of chord progressions, arpeggios and riffs into their pieces, and it’s mesmerizing. Things take a very dark turn during the last few minutes with an angry guitar solo and a tribal drum beat. Finally, they reprise the poem they sang at the beginning. Overall, it’s probably the most focused track on the album.

As a bonus, Children’s Songs comes with a DVD that includes an interview and a live set (each about twenty five minutes long). The interview, as expected, provides a lot of insight into their influences and writing process, acknowledging how they incorporated other artists’ pieces into their own. In between the conversation are bits of performances, which helps maintain the appeal. It’s shot at one of their houses as a roundtable discussion, so it feels intimate and friendly. As for the live set, it’s shot in the living room of the same house, and each song is separated by a brief introduction. Of course it doesn’t sound as lush as the record, but it’s still pretty impressive to watch the guys play. They remain focused throughout and never let the camera distract them.

Lehto & Wright’s Children’s Songs is an incredible record. The duo are masters of their stringed instruments and they combine countless guitar chords and riffs with fantastic percussion to create masterpieces. That said, it is a shame that there are barely any vocals on here. Their voices fit the songs well and the few melodies they sing are absorbing. Plus, it would’ve broken up the monotony of the relentless instrumental music a bit (as enjoyable as it is, it can also get exhausting after awhile). Nevertheless, Children’s Songs is a very fine work indeed.