It’s not often that you encounter such mature storytelling from such a young artist, but Vivian Leva’s debut album Time Is Everything delivers. Soaked in modern Appalachian folk and American roots traditions, it’s an intimate collection of stories set to music with a timeless quality.
A Lexington native, Leva grew up experiencing all of the joy and heartache that comes with adolescence surrounded by the sounds and songs of Virginia. Her parents, Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva, are both acclaimed country musicians, performing together as the duo Jones and Leva. They raised Leva quite literally in the midst of music festivals and fiddler conventions throughout the region, bringing her on stage to perform with them when she was as young as nine years old. Leva said that of all the musical influences she has been exposed to, it is her parents that have made the greatest impact. “They inspired me to listen to a wide range of music and let it all inform my own.”
Already singing as a one-year-old and beginning to write her own songs by seven, Leva’s music feels like an utterly natural part of her. She shifts easily between wistful, longing ballads, lively, fiddle-heavy folk tunes, and the juxtaposition of romance and grit found in old time country. On Time Is Everything, Leva has a sound that fits naturally among the likes of Gillian Welch and Sierra Hull as she harmonizes with her musical partner Riley Calcagno in bubbly bluegrass tunes like “Cold Mountains,” but a bit of Loretta Lynn honky-tonk shines through on the opening track “Bottom of the Glass.” There is a deeply honest and intimate quality to her songs, without them necessarily being autobiographical. “Anything can inspire a song,” she said. “I’ve written songs about myself and my own relationships, other people in my life, stories.” And although each song may not be written from a place of firsthand experience, each one feels personal, as if it carries a kernel of universal experience that applies directly to all of us.
In the title track “Time Is Everything,” Leva examines the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life—even the parts that we believe will last forever. “Time is crucial, particularly in relationships,” she said, something made painfully clear in this track. “You been tryin' to tell me no one knows what the years will bring,” she sings, “I been tryin' to tell you, time is everything.” Despite the song’s upbeat nature, she paints a picture of a relationship that once felt right, but begins to drift apart as time carries both parties in different directions—who can’t relate to that kind of heartbreak? In one of the album’s more contemplative tracks, “Sturdy as the Land,” Leva’s voice dances longingly through the melody like misty clouds engulfing the Appalachian mountains of her hometown. “Where did the time go?” she sings wistfully, “The hours have no end. Where did the love go that felt as sturdy as the land?” It’s this ephemeral longing, this temporal tragedy, that Time Is Everything captures so well.
With an upbringing steeped in both old-timey country and authentic modern folk, Leva has absorbed the musical traditions of generations long gone while still crafting a sound that is all her own. Though it looks to the past both lyrically and sonically, Time Is Everything still connects with contemporary listeners. It’s as if she took the traditional sounds passed down to her, dusted them off, and added another chapter to their relevance by focusing on the things that make great music: universal truths and timeless emotions.
Vivian Leva will perform on Sunday, August 12 at The Front Porch in Charlottesville and on Thursday, August 16 at the Warren G. Lineberry Memorial Park as part of the town of Floyd’s Small Town Summer concert and film series. Hear her new album at vivianleva.com.
Photography by Olivia Siegel