When you’re the lead guitarist for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, what do you do with your spare time when the band is taking a rest from non-stop touring?
If you’re Christian Letts, you leave L.A. and head to the countryside of your native England to pour your emotions into sculpting, painting, and songwriting. You write enough songs to record a debut album, you ask your friend Marcus Mumford to produce it, and you use your own watercolor paintings for the album artwork. Letts and Mumford first met when their respective bands toured the U.S. by train on the “Railroad Revival Tour” in 2011; it has taken a while to coordinate their schedules and finish this project.
Letts spent the last two Januarys recording Hold Fast, due for release next week on Alex Ebert’s Community Music/Vagrant Records label. The collection of songs reflects the unhurried pace of an album inspired by natural elements with its gentle, minor key tranquility and imagery of sea and sky.
The album flows gracefully from the quiet acoustic guitar of the opening track “The Keeper” and the melancholy ballad “La Mer”, where he sings of “a million waves crashing down” and being “swept up by rising tides.” The up-tempo “Emeralds” is the energetic, high tide point of the album on which the Mumford production touches are most evident. The final songs bring the album full-circle to its introspective beginning, as evident when Letts and Mumford harmonize on the last track (“Matches”) and lyrics that speak of “finding grace” and finding “our own place.”
Letts has found his own place among his musical peers and influences. He has taken a canvas of modern folk music and layered it with his poetic brushstrokes of acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, violins, and horns. The result is an impressive debut that showcases his many talents and coincides with a series of art exhibits of his paintings in the U.S. and Europe.
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