Black Horses CD cover

BLACK HORSES

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 Listed by Americana Homeplace among Best of Americana Releases of 2008 (LINK)

Beautifully produced, second selection of self-composed songs by a wonderful guitar picker, who sings a set of Dylan-like lyrics, heavily influenced by his American cowboy background.  Maybe he can't ride a horse, but he certainly takes you there with his songs.  Believe me, just as good live as on this studio recording.

- Roger Giles, President of Devonport Folk Music Club & Auckland Folk Festival Inc

Comfortable backporch music best suited at the end of a hard day and a cold beer.  His easy going style belie a knack for literary detail and story telling that's way above the typical folk singer.  MORE HERE

- Calvin Powers, Taproot Radio

A strong set of songs, stormy folk music based around deft picking and strumming.  The lyrics are worldly and transcend the sadly usual cliches that seem to come with the territory...I really enjoyed listening to the album.  MORE HERE

- Simon Sweetman, NZ Musican

Excellent! Wonderful! Superb! Fantastic!  What is it with these mid-western types, is there some peculiar ingredient in the water?  Leschen’s use of language, metaphors and imagery is very much in the mould of Dylan, but he is no imitator and is quite original in his stringing of words together creating wonderful images in the mind of the listener. His playing of the different styles is just impeccable and I would place him as one of best guitarists in New Zealand.

- Rudy Sunde, Maritime Crew

Many of Leschen’s songs are timeless … Along the way Leschen reminds us of the poetry of life – throwing in references to Kafka and Greek Mythology as well as numerous striking images of his own. Dreams do, in the end, come true: people do head out of their mediocre lives and into the sunset of their dreams.  MORE HERE

- Renee Liang, poet and author of Chinglish 

Leschen is, on evidence of the album, a fine guitarist ... in fact, I would go as far as to say he is a very fine guitarist.  The lyrics are pertinant and the playing flawless.  

-  Keith Redgrave, Americana UK

In contrast to Leschen’s debut album, Black Horses is stripped to the strings, highlighting his songwriting ability and acoustic guitar playing.  He blends Americana melodies with a fine balance of free acoustic guitar involving syncopated rhythm and lead work, with no overdubs.  The songs and their poetic lyrics range from polished and deliberate to spontaneous and unhewn.  With messages that challenge and provoke the public rather than placate it, Leschen’s prose exhibits true feelings that are original and honest.  His voice has been compared to James McMurtry and there is no one who plays acoustic guitar like Leschen, whether it is bluegrass, blues, rock, country waltz, or Tex-Mex.

The album moniker, Black Horses, is a blues spiritual narrated by a transient soul embarking on a heavenward journey.  Spiritual overtones appear in Joshua Speed, who is plotting a jailbreak, and the Bed Monkey, who resolves life’s significance while being disabled at home.  The beautiful gospel tune Long Great Mile, is a tribute to Martin Luther King and was written in Geraldine, South Island.  Leschen is a Jewish immigrant and the longing for home plays a significant role in Wild Roses and Satin, an account of an American town economically ruined by Walmart, and in the archetypal migrant song Man with No Country, which dabbles in Hieronymus Bosch-like imagery.  Protest is a repeated theme, and the album opener, The Double Cross, is a schizophrenic homage to GW Bush’s US, as is Kalgoorlie Mine, written in Australia and relates modern-times to Franz Kafka’s unfinished thesis, the Castle.  Skies of Gallatin, bridges the gap between homesick and protest songs, and tells of a businessman who reinvents himself as a Montana cowboy.  Then there are simple tales of the Great Southwest, including Poppies and Thieves which tells of a CIA agent who is entrapped by a seductress and Big Chief \ Little Jones about dashing young outlaws siding with the plight of the American Indian.  The album closure, A Dream and a Prayer, is a polished bluegrass tune that encapsulates the wishes of a young boy and his father during wartime separation.


Black Horses is revisionist folk album and Leschen's songs will appeal to listeners with bookish attitudes who appreciate fine solo guitar work. The album was recorded by master folk recording engineer Robbie Duncan (Braeburn Studios, Wellington), and every note and meditative pause is expertly captured in this stellar production.

Howard Roark, December 1, 2007

Review of Richard Leschen’s “Black Horses”

Black Horses, Richard Leschen’s second album, is a distinct departure from the gentle lyricism of his debut album, Heavy Waters.  Infused with a heavy dose of social conscience, his songs are a collection of largely dark stories of outcasts, rebels and betrayal, set in both the modern day and historical.  If it wasn’t for the fine quality of the recording and the delicate stringwork one could imagine his songs being played round a campfire, finding favour with rough cowboy-types.  The cowboy character indeed features strongly in his songs – in Skies of Gallatin a businessman“kicks off his velvet slippers” and becomes a roving cowboy.  Many of Leschen’s songs are timeless in this way – they capture the age old sentiments of an individual’s longing for freedom and space.

Leschen is an immigrant from the US of A and a deep vein of Americana runs through his songs, even the one about Kalgoorlie Mine in Australia.  However nostalgic his songs may seem, he never quite lets the sugar coating set. His songs touch on the dark side of human nature, from betrayal in Poppies and Thieves to the aftermath of war in Black Horses. But there is always an undercurrent of hope – even the dying man in my personal favourite, Bed Monkey, focuses on his lifelong dream to “head for the ocean and don’t be afraid.”  Along the way Leschen reminds us of the poetry of life – throwing in references to Kafka and Greek Mythology as well as numerous striking images of his own.

The overall feel of the album is of songs of memory with an undercurrent of loss.  But in Leschen’s world, dreams do, in the end, come true: people do head out of their mediocre lives and into the sunset of their dreams.

Renee Liang, poet and author of Chinglish, December 2007

HEAVY WATERS
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"True and respectful to his named influences including Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and American folk, Richard Leschen has woven a collection of narratives presented in folk-rock with touches of country and discernible kiwi flavour. Highly sentimental, the epic opening track Thanks For Calling was triggered by Hurricane Katrina putting his friends in peril, as well as contact stimulated by a surprise phone call from his father ("Dad never calls!"). Leschen writes with his heart on his sleeve, and captures the moment with cynically crafted and surreal references to worldly ways, posturing by the undeserving and aloof in front of a backdrop of Americana. The phrase title is referenced in other lyrics to water in various states: tears, river delta, clouds, rain and blood all presented in emotional weighty contexts, tying the work together nicely. Lyrics are printed on the CD booklet and enunciated clearly in the music.  Recorded to convey timeless tradition, capturing the essence of natural Northland beauty, and to be enjoyed for years to come."

                                                                                                                                                  Andy Bramwell, Waikato Times

While not peering down a microscope at beetles, entomologist Richard Leschen probes the nature of the human condition through penetrating Americana compositions on his debut release Heavy Waters, a gusto-collection of rock, folk-ballad, Tex-Mex, and alt-country tunes with jam-band influence. Supported by New Zealand musicians and co-production, the music is enlightening, endearing and thought-provoking. Influenced by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Bob Dylan, and old and new time American folk music (ranging from the Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson to Peter Rowan), Leschen takes listeners on a magical and obscure journey from the streets of New York City to the waters of the Andaman Sea to experience love, tragedy, darkness, light.


By far, the most far-reaching and accessible track for a wide variety of listeners is the garage-rock song Thanks for Calling, an homage to a Louisiana friend whom Leschen had lost contact with during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The Dylanesque Bourbon Street Overpass, is another song included on the album that is influenced by hurricane Katrina (this one is dedicated to Clarence Gatemouth Brown) and is the longest track on the album (about 8 minutes).

Though just beginning his song writing career, Leschens lyrics are emotive with highly reflective passages, that are sometimes bizarre and unexpected. Throughout the album there are timeless links to the past, like this one from the Tex-Mex ballad White White West, that also refers to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks:

The battle was bloody and oh the stench, corporate corpses saluted the trench,
The body of the outlaw laid into the ground, wrapped in plastic in a tie-dyed shroud.

In the alt-country waltz The Old Shaker, Leschen describes an aging New Zealand logger longing for youth:

I wish I was a sailor or a prairie pioneer riding ocean ripples or on some dusty trail,
A place of open spaces where I hear a coyote call to see without glasses or walk without a fall.

Lastly, Leschen recants the old time American tradition, incorporating High Lonesome passages, like this one in the title track, Heavy Waters, a tune about an inebriated woodsman who sees an angel:

When I awoke the ambers burnin', and the smoke held beneath the trees,
An empty bottle lay there before me, and I shivered in the breeze.

Not only is Leschen proving to be an innovative wordsmith, his guitar work is spontaneous and fresh, and includes lead work on Thanks For Calling, Hand of Man, and the tie-dyed gunfighter ballad, White White West. He also has a unique style of cross-picking rhythm/lead heard on Bourbon Street Overpass and other tracks. Coralie Usmani (from the group Usmani) adds sweet violin to the moving Tex-Mex ballad Puerto El Negrito (Stand by Your Heart) and other tracks. The album also features multitalented Nigel Gavin on bass and Yair Katz on percussion. The Donna Godchaux-like voicing of New Zealander Tui Divers on Thanks for Calling and the haunting Andaman Tide, as well as the punchy arrangement of The Hand of Man, will certainly appeal to Grateful Dead listeners (as well the lyrics of most songs). 

Saraswati and Lotus Flower

Thanks for Calling 6:49
Puerto El Negrito (Live By Your Heart) 6:29
Charlie McGee 5:58
The Hand of Man 7:07
Heavy Waters 4:45
Papa Lufa and His Havana Band 5:20
The Old Shaker 4:13
Andaman Tide 6:57
White White West 6:34
Bourbon Street Overpass 8:06
To Look at Her 4:08

All songs recorded on Heavy Waters were written between December 26, 2004 and October 24, 2005. Bourbon Street Overpass is dedicated to Gatemouth Brown.
Produced by Nigel Braddock and Richard Leschen
Recorded by Nigel Braddock at Monkey Recordings, Karekare, New Zealand
Mastering by Chris Winchcombe at York Street Recording Studio

The CD features Richard Leschen on vocals, guitar, and mandolin and is accompanied by Nigel Gavin (bass guitar), a seasoned string instrumentalist of the Jews Brothers Band, among other groups in the Auckland area. There are also three sparkling new talents, Yair Katz on percussion (drum kit), Coralie Usmani on violin, and Tui Divers singing background vocals, all active in local New Zealand bands.

The cover was designed by David Robertson and includes the artwork of Ainsley Seago.

Special thanks to Elena Hilario-Andrade, Christopher Carlton, Gyles Basket, and Peter Neumengen