Time is Everything is a notable debut from Vivian Leva. The young country-folk singer-songwriter is rapidly becoming someone you need to know about, so you can say “Heck, I’ve liked her since her first album way back in 2018!”
Leva is bound to garner comparisons to Dori Freeman. Both hail from Virginia, come from musical families and have been making music since they were very young. Both are still quite young — Leva is still college-age — but have a precocious maturity that comes from starting young and spending a lot of time at festivals and other events where musicians can jam with their peers and pick up tips from mentors.
And Leva has a similar feel for the various kinds of American roots music that form the foundation of what’s now known as Americana: Classic country, honky-tonk, old-time stringband, gospel and more go into the mix and come out with Leva’s own spin.
She’s particularly adept at contemporary country-folk, as you can hear in the album’s title track. On this video she performs it in an acoustic duet with her main musical partner Riley Calcagno. Its catchy melody and lyrical hooks allow it to come across in any setting, but I’m partial to the album version where she’s backed by a full band that includes fiddle, pedal steel, bass and drums.
Also in the country-folk vein is the sad waltz “Wishes And Dreams,” which has a minimal arrangement of Leva on guitar, Calcagno on banjo and spare harmony vocals, and Joseph Dejarnette on bass; and a fine cover of Paul Burch’s “Last Of My Kind” by way of Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms, who are one of the finest acoustic country duos in the business right now.
Leva also excels at honky-tonk, whether it’s weepers like the opening track “Bottom of the Glass,” a tale of marital infidelity that she wrote at age 14, or boot-scooting shuffles like the juicy “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As Your Darlin’.” Also in the related classic country vein is the closing track “Here I Am,” which is a sad, longing love song in the tradition of Kitty Wells or Tammy Wynette, set to a country-gospel tune that features Eric Robertson’s churchy piano and harmony vocals.
Leva’s vocal style really excels at old-time songs, which here include her own “No Forever,” an ambiguous declaration of love that might be undying; and particularly the traditional “Cold Mountains, which she learned from the songs of the influential Virginia balladeer Texas Gladden. She really nails this old-time ballad with its authentic Appalachian-style melodic scheme that seems to cut some phrases short and lengthen others in ways that are unexpected to modern ears.
The production, by Leva and her mates, is a bit rough around the edges, which may be intentional. Leva has an interesting alto singing voice that stands out from your average soprano. She’s well on the road to learning how to use that instrument, and her nascent ability to write and sing various Americana styles make her one to watch. Keep an eye on her website or her Facebook page. She’ll very likely be at a house concert, club gig or festival near you sometime soon.
(Free Dirt, 2018)