has been active as a jazz bassist from the 1960s, and since 1983's Salamander Pie
(Digital Music Productions, 1990), he has, from time to time, headlined records as that rara avis
, the singer-songwriter who plays acoustic bass rather than acoustic guitar. (one example: "Goodbye, Miami" from the debutit sounds more prescient day by day.)
Leonhart is an accomplished, fluid bassist who's appeared on gigs and records with a host of top-notch musicians. On Don't You Wish?
he does the neat trick of accompanying his own vocals, aided and abetted by pianist Tomoko Ohno, who plays pleasant mainstream piano and doesn't press things when she solos. The sparse instrumentation and focus on the singer recalls albums like Joni Mitchell
(Rhino Records, 1971), but the idiom here is jazz, and its doubtful that Leonhart would compare himself as a singer with prime Mitchell. With his witty lyrics and limited vocal range, he's more reminiscent of Tom Lehrer (though more gifted vocally and less biting in his observations) and Donald Fagen
(Leonart namechecks Steely Dan
on a song from his debut and does sound a bit like Fagen).
Leonhart is not as polished a lyricist as Fagen or Lehrerrhymes are sometimes fudged (he mentions "bulbs and seeds" to get an "eeds" rhyme in his song "Tulip") and rhythms are padded out with the occasional "did" or other filler. Still, props to "Tulip" for being a song about the 1600's Dutch tulip "mania" in the first place. Between "Tulip" and "Life in the Middle Ages," you'll pick up a little historical knowledge in the disc's fifty-two minutes.
Several songs unwind as sustained narratives"Playboy Club," for instance, whose timing may be unfortunate given the current cultural climate, though the tune gently mocks Leonhart's sexual obsessions rather than the bunnies themselves. Sometimes a song tells a story so effectively that it's a bit of shock when the opening verse reappears at the end. It's like re-reading the first paragraph of a short story rather than hearing a chorus return.
Many of the songs are deeply autobiographical. In "Curtains," for instance, Leonhart counts on the listener being as worried as he is about being late to a Mel Torme
gig (and, yes, he rhymes "Torme" with "delay" on that one). But a certain wry self-awareness keeps the navel- gazing from getting too ponderous, and the songs always feel like genuine self-expression rather than posing. Leonhart's led an amazing life and he wants to tell you what's he's experiencedand learnedalong the way. If you don't mind the somewhat reedy vocals, you'll find much to enjoy in Don't You Wish?
. Leonhart has his limits as a singer-songwriter, but his point of view is so distinctive that you're likely to forgive them by the end of the album, when the record concludes with a gentle and lovable ode to a UFO believer called "They're Coming to Get Me."