In Nashville, a city filled to the brim with talented singer-songwriters, it takes something special to command the attention of an entire room. Leah Blevins has it. The Kentucky-born songsmith’s soulful, raw voice has an unaffected twang that weaves through every note she sings. She’s been building a following in her adopted hometown of Nashville for years, earning praise for that voice as well as her exceptional songwriting. Following the success of two EPs, 2015’s Runnin’ and 2018’s Walk Home, Blevins’ debut album First Time Feeling documents the range of triumphs and trials that led her to where she is today.
“I feel as though the songs are all over the place,” she tells the Scene, “grabbing little imagery of all those times throughout the past 10 to 15 years.”
Since moving to Nashville, Blevins has built upon the musical foundation her family began laying before she was born. In the 1970s and ’80s, her grandparents, aunts and uncles on her mother’s side toured in a gospel group called the Harbor Masters. When Blevins and her twin sister Lacey were youngsters, their grandfather taught them to sing harmony.
In many ways, songwriting is a therapeutic vessel for Blevins, which she uses to channel hazy thoughts and thorny questions into something she can get a grip on. The songs on First Time Feeling focus on a period of growth and challenge encompassing relationships, spirituality and more — a rocky landscape that often marks the journey through your 20s.
“I think that when you have a wandering mind and your imagination is kind of beyond your reality, it’s like you’ve got to do something with that energy,” says Blevins. “I feel like I’m seeing things in a different light myself as far as the songs, and that’s because I’m at a different place in life too.”
Blevins teamed up with Paul Cauthen and The Texas Gentlemen’s Beau Bedford to co-produce First Time Feeling at Dallas’ Modern Electric Sound Recorders. It was somewhat of a leap of faith for Blevins, who was still not sure of the path she wanted to take creatively.
“Paul and I had toured together for a short run, and he proposed the idea of making a record,” she says. “For a little bit, I kind of went back and forth with asking myself, ‘Am I even ready to do this? I don’t even know what I want.’ I got a taste of what he was about to release [2019’s Room 41], and I was like, ‘That’s it, that’s the production. That’s the sound that I want to be dancing to myself.’ ”
The result is that First Time Feeling is rooted in classic storytelling, highlighted by production that draws inspiration from ’70s country, country-rock and funk, but is nonetheless timeless. The sounds add character without overwhelming Blevins’ powerhouse vocals. Each song is a raw, relatable and engaging slice of life, transforming a complicated emotion into something easier to approach.
In “Believe,” Blevins finds herself struggling, looking for guidance toward the right path forward. The powerful cut “Mountain,” which she co-wrote with Cauthen and Bedford in just 30 minutes, is about embracing relationships, even though that means accepting that they could disintegrate at a moment’s notice. The record’s groove-powered title track openly and honestly explores a lover’s longing for the fiery spark of infatuation that’s dimmed over time.
Although First Time Feeling was recorded before the pandemic hit, the pause that 2020 brought for most of us allowed Blevins to make sure her first full-length would allow her art to get in the spotlight the way she wanted.
“Not to be cliché, but timing truly is the dictator of all things,” Blevins says. “I needed to be in that space to check in on myself too. It’s like going back to me asking myself, ‘What do I really want to convey? What do I want, how do I want my life to come across? How do I want to be?’ ”
For Blevins, hearing stories from listeners about how they interpret and connect with her songs allows her to get a new perspective on her own art.
“For folks to reach out and disclose intimate details, like how a relationship was tossed to the wayside and how a certain song has reshaped how they wanted to do things within their world … that’s the most impactful thing,” she says. “It’s those moments that kind of keep you dialed in and remind you that this is serving something way greater than just myself.”
Blevins will be hitting the road with Kendell Marvel and The Marcus King Band in the coming weeks — but not before celebrating the release of First Time Feeling with a headlining show Thursday at The Basement East. The gig marks a sort of finish line for Blevins, both in her journey of creating her first full-length and a long-awaited moment of togetherness that the pandemic stripped away.
“I’m eagerly excited to just be a part of the night itself, and I don’t want it to just be about the new songs and record. It’s about everybody getting in the same room, having a good time — because I think we all deserve that at this point.”