Since my favorite subway serenaders have risen above the underground scene for greener pastures, the T has been a barren, musicless hole for several weeks now. It’s been plain depressing. My morning commute became a tooth-pulling, foot-dragging occasion. I found myself being on time to work every day, with no promises of “Carter’s Tune” to stall me on the subway platform. In fact, it got so dark in there that I was ready to throw myself onto the tracks.
But Leo Blais has saved mass transit.
His voice is champagne sunlight. Warmly-colored and weightless, filled with sweetness and air.
Yesterday I was heading downtown with smiles for the world after kicking ass at an interview when I heard this angelic voice filling the Harvard T station. I was instantly struck. I rounded the corner quickly, curiously. I know all the regular buskers on the Red Line. I had never heard this voice. He was plaintively singing, “…such a nice day…” It was a nice day, I conceded, having just experienced a brilliant morning. But there was a touch of irony in his voice. Not quite bitterness. More like a child who’s been slapped but isn’t sure why.
He had a harmonica and an open guitar case, beside which was piled a stack of CDs. Being largely unemployed, I have no business buying CDs. I resisted the urge, leaning on the giant metal support beam and listening. But with each shining song and each passing train, my resistance grew weak. I finally got on the subway and the whole time I was at work I just wanted to get home so I could listen to my new purchase.
I immediately searched for the song that had been stuck in my head since the second I heard him sing it. “Nice Day” is officially my new Shower Song.
So today was obviously the result of a strange planetary alignment. The Harvard job I interviewed for yesterday requested a second intreview today, so I was once again coming down the escalator and heard Leo’s sweet vocals bouncing off the dingy brick walls. And he was once again singing “…such a nice day…”. I reveled in this moment of synchronicity.
He He slid through some gorgeous finger-picked harmonica tunes and then began playing “Green Plastic Trees.” The first few lines put a little shiver in my spine. In full-on coitus interuptus, a Fat White Man came bustling hastily over, wielding his copy of the Metro. I thought he was going to smack Leo in the face with it. He was panting for breath from the sheer exertion of walking, brow damp with sweat, chapped lips twitching with agitation.
At first I thought he was some MBTA official, but he was wearing Fat White Man civilian clothing. And, of course, reading the Metro.
Leo stopped strumming as the guy lurched toward him, gesticulating wildly. “Turn that down! It’s too freakin loud! No one’s going to give you money! You’re annoying!”
I stared at him incredulously. Leo’s champagne sunlight voice singing Radiohead annoying?
The reality is that he was jealous because he wasn’t young, beautiful and golden-throated. He was jealous because he didn’t have a soul.
Leo recovered gracefully. Eventually I had to procure an iced coffee and tear myself away to meet a handful of friends and scamper about the city. But I’ve returned now, sunburned and sandy-footed, to listen to Beethoven Never Heard This once again.
The album surprised me. I guess I was expecting largely acoustic solo material. Leo’s gorgeous melodies run through all of it, but some of it is big music. Several of the tracks are catchy, almost theatrical, piano-driven tunes with bouncy drums and horns. Bright and energetic, but maybe a little poppy for my current taste — a little too clean. My favorites are the darker songs — the ones that feel like he’s seen enough pain to write valid art but not enough to be bitter.
“Nice Day” (my Shower Song) is all minor chords, strings and sweet sadness. The vocals are breathy, airy and delicious. It feels the same on the album as it did in the subway — driving in the summer with the top down, but driving away from something painfully important.
Then there are the sparse finger-picked guitar and harmonica songs I was expecting that center around his vocals. “You Just Sigh” is another big favorite of mine, and the underwater “All That You Want”, which shudders with reverb and delay.
So, yay! I love finding new music, especially in my neighborhood. And especially if Leo is going to make my morning commute sweeter this summer. I’ll have to start getting up earlier or taking a longer lunch.