There are two ways to take in an artist like Mary Leay. One is through intense introspective listening, preferably with large headphones, a dark room and rain tapping at the window. The other is in the background, where her lush orchestration and flawless voice can help create a relaxing, ambient setting.
Her debut effort For The Last Time (let’s hope that title isn’t referring to her recording career) is not the type of album you can join halfway through. It takes a few songs for her fragility to seep in. Once it does, it is a haunting and often affecting listen. At the same time, it is easy to detach from this fragility allow the textures and minor chords to wash over.
Leay’s voice is her strongest weapon. Her range carries the album, often painting over any flat or weaker spots. Many of her tunes are similar in structure and length, with most around the four and a half minute mark. While this does create a sense of sameness throughout, there are moments when she throws in a spanner, such as the guest vocals on the LP’s title track. Oddly enough this is probably the strongest tune, a surprise considering it is buried deep near the album’s conclusion.
Elsewhere Leay demonstrates her songwriting prowess. On Almost Home she combines a gorgeous falsetto with a stern resolve to move on from her status quo. Conversely, the slow-moving sparseness and stark imagery of Albatross conveys Leay’s penchant for creating atmosphere and space, a trend that is prevalent through For The Last Time. Her cover of Yes‘ Owner Of A Lonely Heart is a straightforward retelling that would not be lost within the confines of a café or restaurant. It’s not necessarily bad – it just doesn’t exploit Lea’s talents to the degree it needs to.
To her credit Leay is an artist who is true to her art. She doesn’t seem preoccupied or even interested in creating a cut to suit the commercial market. There are no poppy tunes; nothing of a bubblegum nature. If anything her yearnings would suit an adult contemporary niche, though her songwriting tends to suggest she is a singer of deeper substance.
Those looking for the vulnerability of a Joni Mitchell (especially around the Blue era) or James Taylor would do well to seek out For The Last Time. Likewise, those in search of a relaxing, soothing listen will find plenty to indulge in. Either way, it’s a safe bet there’s something to enjoy in Mary Leay’s output in one form or another.