It’s the kind of story that merits a pretty great country song — but not the kind about beer and trucks and flags and horses and heartbreak and divorces and/or any of the other tropes people all too often associate with the genre. No, this would be the kind of country song telling the extraordinary true story about a real woman finding — well into full-grown adulthood, no less — her voice as an artist and with it a brand new sense of purpose in life. It’s the kind of story that merits the kind of country song that a woman like Leslie Waugh might write and sing, because it’s her story.
And who knows? Maybe Leslie herself will get around to writing that song, someday. But she hasn’t just yet, because she’s too busy living it in real time. Hard as it is for Leslie herself to believe, she’s been a songwriter now for nearly 20 years, and perhaps with another decade or two of getting used to it she’ll feel ready to distill it all into one big song. But for now she’s still enthralled by the joy she finds in using her voice to capture even the smallest experiences of everyday life into snapshots of verse and melody. Snapshots like the ones collected on each volume of Vignettes from a Woman’s Serenade, the trilogy of EPs she launched in the spring of 2022, continued with Volume II later that December and caps — at least for now! — with the September 29, 2023 release of Volume III.
“I always saw them as a trilogy, but, being a woman — I reserve the right to change my mind!” Waugh offers with a laugh.
“Every one of these songs is just a little, separate story,” she continues. “They’re all just little snippets of life, love, disappointment, happiness, whatever life might be. They’re usually character driven, and even if it may not always be my truth, it could be somebody else’s truth — and it’s always from a woman’s perspective.”
Each EP features four new Waugh originals, with the full dozen collectively showcasing her ever-evolving growth and confidence as a writer in the wake of her 2011 debut, The White Cat Sessions, and its critically acclaimed follow-up, 2014’s Lloyd Maines and Terri Hendrix produced On.Ward. All three Vignettes EPs were mixed and mastered by Pat Manske, who also co-produced and recorded the second and third volumes at The Zone in Dripping Springs, Texas. Waugh produced the first volume herself at her home studio in Houston, after sessions for what was supposed to be her third full-length hit an impasse.
“I had started a project with someone in the Austin area, who brought in some really good people to play on it, but I ended up pulling the plug in the eleventh hour because I realized we were no where near being on the same page as far as what I wanted the album to sound like,” she says. “It made me really sad but it just wasn’t feeling right. So I let all those songs we’d worked on sit for awhile, but I really wanted to salvage something from that experience, so finally my husband and I pulled up the tracks in my home studio and started peeling back the layers of the onion. I found four of the songs I thought we could save, so I had a guitar player come in to lay down some new parts, and then we remixed and remastered them into what became the first EP. But for the next two EPs I worked with Pat at the Zone, starting from scratch. It just made me feel better to start fresh.”
Although the four songs she picked for the first EP felt right together — and were indeed all worth “salvaging” — her decision to build Volume II and III from the ground up with Manske lends each a distinct thematic and complete sonic vision. It’s no coincidence that all of the songs on Volume II have “heart” in the title, beginning most appropriately with the standout “Map of Your Heart.” Matters of the heart and human connection factor prominently across Volume III, too, but all four songs on that collection (“Uncommon Cowboy,” “A Kinder Man,” “Lost My Heart in Dallas,” and “Sweetheart of Your Rodeo”) share more of a pronounced country and western theme — not to mention the outstanding accordion playing of special guest Josh Baca, of Los Texmaniacs and the Hot Tamales fame. “When Pat brought Josh in, that really helped set the tone for the whole thing,” she enthuses.
The “wow” factor of hearing any of her songs, let alone a whole recording project, graced by the playing of a Grammy-nominated musician of Baca’s caliber isn’t lost on Leslie, but this certainly wasn’t the first time she’s had that honor. She still can’t help but marvel at the surreal fact that the very first time she ever played one of her songs live, she was accompanied onstage by legendary guitar player (and Grammy-winning producer) Lloyd Maines. Come to think of it, that was also actually the very first song she ever even wrote. Which brings us back around to the aforementioned story of how Leslie Waugh (then Leslie Krafka) first found her better-late-than-never calling as a Texas troubadour. All thanks in no small part to a dream tropical vacation that never was.
“It was going to be my 20th wedding anniversary, and I’d been telling my now ex-husband, ‘I really want to go to Hawaii!’ But he decided that instead of us going to Hawaii, I was going to go to a songwriter workshop in Port Arthur, Texas, for the weekend with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines.” She pauses to laugh. “I was like, ‘OK ... what? Why can’t you just give me what I asked for?”
Now, for the record, Hendrix and Maines were already two of Leslie’s very favorite performers, especially on the Americana and independent Texas music scene. But she had only ever been a fan. She hadn’t sung anything since middle school choir, had never played a guitar or any other instrument, and had definitely never given any thought to the idea writing songs
“I feel like I’ve never stopped learning,” says Houston’s Leslie Waugh (formerly Leslie Krafka) of the journey she began nearly two decades ago after attending what she calls a “life changing” songwriting workshop hosted by Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines. It was a surprise 20th anniversary gift — not quite the trip to Hawaii she’d asked for, but ultimately far more impactful. Although she’d never written a song or played guitar before, Leslie came away from that weekend with a new sense of purpose and personal empowerment, and she’s spent every day since honing her craft and slowly but surely establishing her bona fides as a true Texas troubadour. Her first two albums, 2011’s The White Cat Sessions and 2014’s on.ward (co-produced by Maines and Hendrix, her teacher-heroes turned duly-impressed peers), were warmly received out of the gate, with Richard Skanse of Lone Star Music Magazine praising her songs for being “full of buoyant melodies that never sag or drag and lyrics that convey both maturity and a young-at-heart spirit that’s playful but never fluffy.” Other accolades include her wins for “Songwriter of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from the Houston Songwriter Association, as well as being named a Regional Folk Finalist at Kerrville and a finalist at Songwriter’s Serenade. And she’s still gathering steam. In the spring of 2022, she released the EP Vignettes From a Woman’s Serenade, a short-but-sweet collection of songs spotlighting love, life, hardship, and perseverance from a woman’s point of view — then chased it with Vignettes From a Woman’s Serenade, Volume II later that same year and, in September 2023, Volume III. Will there be more? “I always saw them as a trilogy, but, being a woman — I reserve the right to change my mind,” Waugh demurs with a laugh. Regardless, count on this: Whatever she does next, this woman’s serenade is worth hearing.
"Onward, her second album, is where Krafka (Waugh) really arrives. Produced by Maines and Hendrix, the whole record sounds fantastic, crisp and full (but never cluttered)...But Krafka, despite being a rookie separated by that formidable bunch by decades of collective experience, holds her own all the way through with conviction to spare. Her voice alone is a real find: sweet but assertive and ribboned with color, it glistens through “Beauty,” swaggers sassily through “Whiskey High,” and settles like a golden-red sunset over the river of pedal steel on “South Texas Fall.” Her songs are real winners, too, full of buoyant melodies that never sag or drag and lyrics that convey both maturity and a young-at-heart spirit that’s playful but never fluffy. Best of all, though, is the way she handles herself on the album’s one cover, “Drunken Poet’s Dream.” Memo to Ray Wylie Hubbard and Hayes Carll: hate to tell you this, boys, but while you were sleeping, that woman done stole your song." ---Richard Skanse, Lone Star Music Magazine
"Leslie Waugh Krafka (Waugh) is a genuine songwriter that writes about topics ranging from storytelling to matters of the heart. She’s never trite and always seeking truth in her lyrics with a style all her own. A little bit of twang with a saucy spice of city slicker. It makes for an intoxicating mix that leaves the listener wanting more." --Terri Hendrix, Singer Songwriter, Author, Musician & Producer
"All in all I was quite pleased that I had been “blind sided” by this performer and look forward to following her progression down the musical road of life."---Eddie "Edge" Feranti, Houston Music Review
"Don’t try to predict what direction singer and songwriter Leslie Krafka (Waugh) is going to head. If you do, you’ll just embarrass yourself. With her new album, “on.ward,” Krafka mixes tough and tender with a heavy dose of audacity. She does true love (“Stay With Me”) and heartache (“The Pain of Losing You”) exceedingly well. But Krafka is not afraid to call out a two-legged skunk on “Wine, Women and Song” or throw down a few too many (“Whiskey High”). And she has the guts, chops, confidence and yes, audacity, to cover the gritty Ray Wylie Hubbard/Hayes Carll song “Drunken Poet’s Dream.” If that’s not enough to grab your interest, and your ears, “on.ward,” produced by Lloyd Maines and Terri Hendrix, features an all-star cast of Texas players and just sounds great."---Jim Beal, Jr., Third Coast Music Network
"Having the opportunity to have seen the maturity of Leslie Krafka’s (Waugh) music from the listener and the on air host side I can without reservation recommend her new CD “onward”. The title itself frees Ms. Krafka’s writing and opens a new chapter for her and the music, with full respect to the process of story writing “Onward” is a complete musical novel. Ms. Krafka’s cover of Hayes Carll’s & Ray Wylie Hubbard’s – Drunken Poets Dream should appease the feminist and bring a smile to the opposing view of the song."---Rick Heysqueirdo, KPFT's Lone Star Jukebox