Benjamin Francis Leftwich is the owner of the sort of singing voice that is proving very popular these days - that of a hybrid of the Justin Vernon-type falsetto and the breathy, emotive whisperings of Elliott Smith (and is recorded with this in mind). While Leftwich's debut album doesn't yet eclipse the work of either of those, his promise is evident in every song especially when you consider that he's only 21 years old.
Leftwich, a self-taught musican who grew up with the sounds of Dylan and the Stones, has been recording since his teens. His A Million Miles Out and Picures Eps made sufficient impact to file him under the burgeoning "one to watch" category and Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm does enough to justify that tag. It is an alluring collection of lovelorn songs, drenched in reverb and heartfelt strings and sombre guitar.
Album opener Pictures, borrowed from one of Leftwich's prior Eps of the same name, introduces the listener to Leftwich in as concise a manner as possible. A delicately picked guitar line acts as a readymade bed for Leftwich's vocals to curl up within and this is a strategy that is rarely abandoned throughout the duration of the 10 song collection. Box of Stones, the first single, uses the same trick but ends with a soaring crescendo of backing vocals and strings even if that chorus might be just a little too sugary.
The title-track is perhaps the most satisfying on the album, striking the right balance between Leftwich's intriguing vocals and inviting but understated and never showy musicianship. Leftwich has served notice with this album that, while he's not just yet the finished article, he at least deserves a place at the table. While it perhaps lacks some of the weight of his (much more experienced) peers and influences, it would be unfair to Leftwich to dwell on the negatives when this is a good, and occasionally great, album.