Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Erin Costelo had quite a busy year in 2018. Along with the successful release of her own “Sweet Marie” album, she was busy producing albums too; most notably “Grenades” from Kaia Kater, which just so happened to be one of my shortlisted albums of the year. So when I recently learned that Costelo had not only signed the Halifax based artist Leanne Hoffman to her own Venue Records Label, but was also producing Hoffman’s debut solo album too, I was very eager to give this one a whirl.
Formerly one half of the Nova Scotia bluesy folk-pop duo, Magnolia, Hoffman would foster her initial connection with Costelo at a Halifax university, where Erin happened to be teaching at the time. “Growing up in Exeter, ON, Hoffman’s interests were always more literary than musical,” states her recent bio. “By the time Hoffman moved to Halifax for university, however, the magnetic pull of songwriting became undeniable.” With production duties handled at that time by Costelo for the debut release from Magnolia, the eventual demise of the duo in 2013 opened a new door for Hoffman; one that allowed her to explore her own musical direction and identity. And here now in early 2019, Hoffman is ready to release “What Remains,” her first solo venture that draws strongly upon her life experiences over these last five years.
Combining Hoffman’s bluesy folk-pop leanings, and Costelo’s sweet soul grooves, “What Remains” is a potent mixture of both sounds and styles. Produced and engineered by both Costelo and Thomas Stajcer at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard Studios in Dartmouth, NS, Hoffman offers ten self-composed songs (two are co-written with Costelo) that are absolutely outstanding. Indeed, Erin lends not only her production and song-writing touches, but plays keyboards on select tracks too. Furthermore, she has brought along her long-time collaborator and fiance, Clive MacNutt, to add his signature guitar sound also. Once again, from her bio, “Against a backdrop of Americana-influenced guitars and subtle synths, Hoffman’s lyrics and resonant voice remain front and center: she’s singing about subjects from romance to family and aging to gender equality, sharing her soul as she chases that magical musical synergy.”
“What Remains” boasts plenty of keyboards, as you would expect. Plenty of twang from MacNutt too, naturally. I really don’t want to consider the instrumentation as an appetizer, but you really get to the main course once you take delight in the well-crafted lyrics and amazing vocal delivery offered up here by Leanne Hoffman. Of course, being endorsed by Costelo, I would be foolish to expect anything less. With a running time of almost 37 minutes, there are several sounds and musical styles offered by the band throughout the ten tracks, and at the center of each is Hoffman’s voice; the one constant; the glue that binds everything together, and not once subdued, but beautifully dominant through each and every song.
The influence of the producer are evident when listening to both “Turning The Truth,” complete with a superb eighties synth-vibe, and “Maybe,” in which the keyboards dictate a wonderful pace to accompany the vocals which, for me, feel incredibly intimate – like perhaps a conversation between good friends. Skip to “Human” for a taste of MacNutt’s signature guitar, which combines well here with a slower, atmospheric tempo that allows Hoffman to really stretch her vocal cords. If you are looking for the traditional MacNutt guitar, it is plentiful during the title track, “What Remains,” complete with a little swagger from Hoffman, who teases with a foray into some Kathleen Edwards and Neko Case territory here.
For those seeking some soothing sounds, “If I Leave Town,” is a great place to start, offering up a soft pop-soul sound of past generations, and wrapped up in some powerful vocals once more that, for me, drew comparisons to vocal powerhouses Linda Ronstadt and Karen Carpenter. With the Erin Costelo influence noticeable once more, “Growin’ Old” quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album, especially with the vintage soul beat and the addition of some horns that add extra depth and character. And don’t miss the intriguing musical interlude during “Redirect Your Sails,” which captured my attention immediately, and lured me in to Hoffman’s well-versed bluesy sound. Closing with “Home,” the spotlight shines on just the vocals and piano keys, bringing both artist and listener closer together for this intimate finale; with some late harmonies and discreet strings for added comfort too.
Together, Hoffman and Costelo have created a stunning collection of songs, making this a truly beautiful debut solo album that deserves to be heard. I absolutely love each and every track on “What Remains,” and if I had to offer up any criticism, the 37 minutes fly past in no time, leaving me craving much, much more from this upcoming artist. If you are already in love with the music of Erin Costelo and Kaia Kater, you’ll quickly fall in love with Leanne Hoffman too. “What Remains” is out on May 10th on Venue Records, so be sure to set your calendars or task reminders right now so that you do not miss out on this stunning release.