Lewis Leighton – What A Man Must Be, He Must Be…(Album review)

There wasn’t exactly a plethora of musical talent in my school year; a few guitarists, a trombonist and probably a hundred or more haunted from forced recorder lessons from primary school, but other than that it was pretty dry.

There is, however, an exception; someone not only a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, drums, piano), but has recently (until the pandemic) carved a full-time career as a professional playing an array of covers, mixed in with his own material. This man is Lewis Leighton, a man I first properly came across during a year 7 or 8 school cross country run. Not known for his sporting prowess (despite being lacking musically, we were actually a gifted year when it came to sports), I was surprised to see him amongst the front runners around the fields of Caldicot Comprehensive School, not less because my only previous experience of him had been seeing him walking around the village casually smoking rollies, which when you’re 12 or 13 from a bit of a protected background is a sight to behold!

Leighton released his debut album “83” (his birth year) in 2015, an album he wrote, recorded and produced entirely himself in his home. “83” was a deeply honest and open album, fully encapsulating where he was at that point in his life and something he understandably looks back on with immense pride. Six years on and having kept the album almost exclusively to himself for the past year (yeah, because of the pandemic!), Leighton has finally released album number two, an album he describes as candidly described as “the most personal and darkest material I’ve written”.

The album opens rather poignantly with the piano led title track “What a Man Must Be, He Must Be”, a quote line attributed to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, referring to self-actualisation. Leighton, by his own admission, gave up music for a period, but it once again found him. He is, by design, a musician and always will be a musician.  

Following a mellow start is the immeasurably sprightlier “You Don’t Need My Autograph”, before “On the Stage” once again showcases the more tender side of the singer with the disclosure that he is most at ease when performing. The song, in which some lovely finger-picking is displayed is all the more moving due to the fact the one place he really feels at home has been out of reach for well over a year.

On the subject of guitar playing, next track “Citizen and the Rain” provides one of the highlights for craftsmanship on the 6-string with some superb blues and slide guitar. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), it is also one of the best songs on the album. Next up, Leighton shows his fun side with “Serial Killer” (yeah, I know), before lead single “Summertime”, a catchy tune as you’d expect from a single, although scrape beneath a jovial exterior and a darker subject is exposed in the songs lyrics.

Into the second half of the album and the genre hopping continues with the ballad (and another highlight) “Rock and Roll Unreachable” and fun-filled boogie woogie of “Now It’s Over”. “Anti Social Media  (parts one and two)” sees Leighton’s sardonic take on the modern world, before the balladry of “Come Break My Heart” ends the album in suitably melancholic style.

This second album from Leighton has been a long time coming and he has clearly done a lot of living in the intervening years. Only after diving back into his self-produced, stripped down acoustic debut album (this new album was produced by Phil Smith of One Louder Studios) can you really appreciate the distance he has come as a musician and songwriter and I don’t mean to be detrimental about the debut.

Life for a career musician is rarely a breeze unless you’re in the top 0.10% and this is encapsulated in this album, although it’s also a reminder that there is plenty of joy from the profession and I’m sure that once this pandemic is over, Lewis Leighton will once again be out there doing what he loves doing most. I will, however, always wonder what might have been if he had kept up the cross country!

“What A Man Can Bel, He Should Be…” is out now via the usual streaming services. Try it HERE on Spotify. It’s is also available in good old fashioned CD format, which you can get from the Bandcamp link below for a snip at just £8!


Gavin Facey – 02/06/2021

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