As the Northern Hemisphere moves through a lazy spring into a long-awaited summer, it’s good to be immersed in music that draws inspiration from the magic of nature. Sleeping Leaves may be the debut EP from Jeanes but, like all good things, it’s taken time to gestate and develop. It’s been 30 years, in fact, with the first ideas emerging as poetry and falling onto scraps of paper – the “sleeping leaves” of the title. A period of reflection in the Yorkshire countryside led to a reimagining of the work and a complex collaboration between independent musicians across the globe.
Graphic designer and film-maker Russ Jeanes, creative force behind the project, explains his search for the unique quality he needed to give voice to his songs:
“I listened to thousands of DIY artists trying to find the right fit, it was so important to get it right. It was a labour of love for me to get it right, and to find the right people – mood and sound. I really wanted female voices – that were unique, pure and right for the words and songs”.
The result is four tracks of exquisite musicality, so fresh they could have been written yesterday, yet as eternal as sunshine.
Opening the collection, “Simple Jayne” features the gentle vocals of French-American artist Catherine Hershey, accompanied by morning blackbirds heard through the open window of her Parisian home. Inspired by Ian Macdonald’s words about Nick Drake – “sensitive young people often have a horror of being understood for fear of losing their uniqueness, and in the process finding that they are not as unique as they like to think” – this deliciously relaxed song is for the moments when silence is too harsh but sound needs no more than to blend with breath.
Russ admits to having fallen in love with Catherine Hershey’s voice, which is hardly surprising, since her pure tone is the perfect complement to his crystal-clear arrangements. Thankfully, Catherine was also drawn to Russ’ songwriting, resulting in the second collaboration of this collection, “Barley Hops and Yeast”. Exploring Russ’ “search for love through alcohol-induced delirium, which often resulted in waking outside, in fields, by water, under the stars”, “Barley, Hops and Yeast” is delivered with a lightness of touch, mimicking the hypnotic effect of its alcoholic counterpart. Lie back, listen, and enjoy, safe in the knowledge that there’ll be no hangover.
Inspiration comes from many places, and Russ credits writer Roald Dahl and photographer Benjamin Alexander Huseby as his stimulus for “Smiles With Her Eyes”. Emily Grace Zornado provides the vocals and the accompaniment, played with gentle precision on a ukulele. This is a transatlantic collaboration, as Connecticut-based Emily recorded her contribution near a small national park in her hometown of Danielson, capturing the heavy tones of summer in her sublime delivery. We know how special it is to see someone smile with their eyes. It’s genuine, authentic, and engaging. It’s the smile we want from people we care for. It’s held beautifully within this song and will put a smile in the eyes of listeners everywhere.
If trees and plants have a secret life – and Peter Tompkins and Peter Wohlleben share the science of this in their respective publications – it was revealed to Russ in early morning walks “as the first rays of sun rise, the rustle of the leaves, as trees sway, breathe and call for the bees to come and pollinate them”. The result is “Trees Hug Bees”, a poem developed into song by Russ and Brussels-based artist and singer/songwriter Léa Decan while travelling in Paris, Brussels and China. It is accompanied by sensational strings, arranged by Russ in collaboration with Yorkshire’s Tom Sidebottom, and inspired by English classical music. The result is an encapsulation of autumn gold as trees “watch her leaves die beautifully, her feet within them when it’s springtime”.
Time, distance, and a wellspring of talent have combined to create in Sleeping Leaves a delicious mix of poetry and music. Mesmerising, calm, and easy, these are compositions to soothe the soul. Need to breathe, to take time out, and remember that there’s more to life than the daily grind? Sit back and let Sleeping Leaves transport you to a forest in the mountains where nature plays at a slower pace. Then maybe grab your backpack and head there for real.
Sleeping Leaves features Catherine Hershey, Emily Grace Zornado, Léa Decan, the guitars of Scott Fraser and string arrangements from Tom Sidebottom. It’s available for pre-order here, although there are rumours that Russ is about to get snapped up by a label we love.
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