"This album is about the necessary human journey from thought to feeling, from the head to the heart," shares Dark Americana Pop artist Lenni Revel. "These themes represent my story. I perpetuated the chaos of a life lived solely through a willful mind. It became a recipe for suffering, and not just for me personally but for others around me. Something had to change, and honesty was the only way out. Even now, learning to feel life without contraction is an ongoing practice."
The Sonoma County, California-based artist is talking about her darkly cathartic, Unbroken, an album born of pain and confusion but conceived in love. The 8-song collection represents a rebirth and a reclamation from the clutches of mental health struggles, drugs, and the grinding machinery of the music business. Unbroken is also woven from a profound love story between Lenni and her husband, Robert Revel, an entrepreneur, and published author who wrote and co-wrote much of the album. "Our story is at the heart of this album. Without this marriage, there would be no music," she says.
Lenni's aesthetic encompasses outlaw country and anthemic pop-rock. She is a dynamically expressive singer with a voice that spans scrubbed-raw soulfulness to deep, velvety tones. Lenni's voice has earned comparisons to Stevie Nicks, Fiona Apple, Miley Cyrus, Norah Jones, and Lana Del Ray. She is also a songwriter and co-writer who contributed collaboratively to Unbroken. Lenni and Robert's creative partnership is reminiscent of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, where Elton is out front in the limelight and Bernie is the trusted songwriting collaborator, ever present behind the scenes.
A few years before Lenni met Robert, her life was a saturated pop star fantasy blur—with fancy LA A&R execs vying to work with her; a digital billboard in Times Square promoting her single and an indie publishing deal for her pop song "I Like It." But for Lenni, something inside was beginning to move in contradiction to a conjured glamorous life. "Nothing felt clean or true," Lenni says. She knew deep down she wasn't an accomplished singer. By her own admission, her tone was harsh, she was pitchy, she had a narrow range and relied heavily on auto tune. "Out of instinct, I started practicing singing with just my naked voice," she says. On one particular occasion, "I was holding a long note and the position of my consciousness suddenly shifted." She was no longer thinking about singing, she was just singing. In that moment, "I felt a new kind of freedom," she concludes.
A little over a year later, Lenni made the stunning decision to walk away from it all, with the last of Lenni's pop persona finally evaporating in the harrowing nightmare of kicking her Adderall addiction cold turkey, alone; grinding out the harsh hour-by-hour withdrawals in a backyard shed she was living in at the time. Without help or guidance, the 24-year old's radically reclusive and stark renunciation of all things addictive and comforting quickly plunged her into such mental and emotional turmoil that she was admitted to a psych ward and put on suicide watch. The story of her journey from darkness to wholeness has become the basis of this album.
A week after her 25th birthday, Lenni felt moved to ease back into the world. On an odd whim, she responded to a Craigslist ad for a day labor job to help someone pack up their garage in preparation to move. That someone was Robert Revel. Twenty-five years older than Lenni, Robert had already navigated the depths of despondency Lenni was moving through at the time. "I felt strangely at ease on first impression with him" she says. "Robert saw and understood who I actually was, and a unique friendship unfolded," she adds. "Before any notions of romantic love ever occurred between us, I knew I was going to marry him."
Before the making of the album, Robert would often say to Lenni that he didn't see himself as a musician. He is a self-taught singer-songwriter and relative beginner guitarist who could not read music. Even so, he had amassed a catalog of original songs spanning over 25 years. During the covid lockdown Lenni began to explore Robert's music. Soon, the couple began playing together, with Robert on guitar and Lenni singing his songs. Eventually, they invited Lenni's parents, former touring rock musicians in the 80's, to act as their rhythm section¬¬— her mom on bass and her dad on drums. With occasional sit-ins with other musicians, including Robert's older brother on lead guitar, the duo put together a garage recorded demo of 32 songs.
In June of 2021, Lenni and Robert took a huge leap of faith. They recorded eight of those songs at the renowned Northern California recording studio Prairie Sun with Nashville-based producer and mixer Jason Lowrie, along with some ace session players from Los Angeles. The result is Unbroken, a redemptive album designed to be experienced as a complete vision.
The album's opening track is the country-rock influenced "Where There Ain't No Sun." Here, Lenni sings with soulful weariness the first line: my river flows where there ain't no sun. The song slowly unfolds, becoming lavishly layered with atmospheric ambience and stirring, dynamic drumming with Lenni's textured crooning throughout. In the final section her vocals literally take flight with soaring emotionality only to land ever so softly into a gentle acoustic guitar that wraps up the song.
The cinematic, "As I Row," with its stately strings, spacious drums and loping beat conjures the feel of a gothic waltz—a choreographer's dream song. The lyrics are darkly poetic, like a Greek heroic myth, weaving a tale of existential tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds.
The intimate piano ballad, "Till Only Love Remains," is achingly beautiful, delicately framing Lenni's smoky vocals with sorrowful strings and low-in-the-mix ethereal touches. The song delivers an endearing testimony to the ultimate axiom: When all is said and done, only love remains as essential.
The moodily blunt "Annabelle" is a song about a girl lost in her head, numb to the world, and barely staying afloat with her looks and charm. Lenni's vocals swing into overdrive as the song's dramatic arrangement sways and swells until climaxing theatrically, finally crashing into an uneasy ending with a haunting vocal delivery.
The craftily arranged title track, "Unbroken," written by Lenni, is the album centerpiece. It is divided into three distinct movements that chronicle the journey from head to heart. The song's three-part dramatic sweep is a refreshing homage to the best multi-section rock songs of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. The song seems written for the large stadium/arena venue as if by deliberate design. Like the song's profound message, the sound feels big and relevant. The final sequence of "Unbroken" brings that message home with the mantra-esque "Thoughts are but a drop, to feel is the ocean," sung over and over like a choral prayer.
The impactfully essential "White Coat"—written by Lenni—is an autobiographical song detailing her time spent in a psych ward in 2015. Distilled down to almost just voice and piano, this is a heartbreaking but courageously confessional artistic feat that gives voice to an epidemic of institutionalized women.
The second to last song, "Then Arise," is a victorious statement—a pop-rock track with the fiery chorus refrain: if you don't lay down, then arise! Lenni seems to be giving a respectful nod to a Freddie Mercury-style bawdy passion, with an in-your-face musical sermon about perseverance. The song is pure, anthemic stadium rock that fully redeems the listener from the brooding introspection of the rest of the album's tracks.
Finally, the album concludes with the deliberately disruptive "Opus 8: Debris/Love." The song delivers a two-part movement. The first (Debris) consists of a powerful piano/vocal epic, boasting the artist's rawest vocal performance yet. The second movement (Love) is a beguiling acapella of Lenni's enchanting voice layered and echoing into the celestial ethers.
The Unbroken album, experienced from top to bottom, offers a powerful invitation to fully feel the textures of life and endure. Lenni concludes: "The heart of this music unfolds from a love story," she says. "And love is what gives us the capacity to endure."