Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Languid Country Soul of Dylan LeBlanc, Born 10,000 Years Ago in Muscle Shoals

Dylan LeBlanc by Herschell Hershey
Dylan LeBlanc, a photo by Herschell Hershey on Flickr.
I owe Dylan LeBlanc an apology. When I reviewed his first album, Paupers Field, in UNCUT, I suggested that his father was Lenny LeBlanc, a Muscle Shoals sideman who played with Hank Williams Jr and Roy Orbison before scoring a big hit with Falling. It was an honest mistake. The sketchy information which accompanied the record had mentioned the Muscle Shoals connnection, I had Googled, asked for conformation, and pressed "send".
It was a nice idea, but wrong. His dad is another Muscle Shoals sideman, James LeBlanc. Lenny has graduated to Christian music. James hasn't, though he does play on LeBlanc's beautiful, bleak new record, Cast The Same Old Shadow, which is out on Rough Trade in August.
LeBlanc played the Lexington in London last night. I was surprised by a few things. Mostly, I thought he would be more popular. The Lexington's a fine venue, but it only holds 200; Paupers Field was one of the best records of 2010.
Still, there's no accounting for public taste, and LeBlanc's sensibility is bleak. (The new record, produced by Trina Shoemaker, is even more dense than Paupers Field.) And it was a shock to be reminded how young LeBlanc is. He doesn't sound young. To paraphrase Elvis Country, he sings as if he's 10,000 years old, and he's spent most of those years rolling his regrets in chewing tobacco. But, in person, what you get is a young man in a tweed jacket who takes a deep breath before the lights come up, and sings with his eyes closed. His patter is modest, much of it concerning his earnest hope that people buy his new record, because he needs the money.
The self-deprecation extends to the set, too. He finishes with three cover versions. He plays Lay Lady Lay, in tribute to his grandfather, also a picker, who used to sing to his grandma. It was, LeBlanc said, "the only true love I've ever seen in my life". Then he encores with Al Green's Let's Stay Together, which works surprisingly well with a pedal steel guitar; and Neil Young's Ohio.
He played all of these songs well, and they give a good pointer to his tastes. As an encapsulation of the mix of soul and folk that informs his music, you couldn't be more concise, unless he'd worn a Gram Parsons Nudie suit while singing them. But I prefer it when Dylan LeBlanc plays Dylan LeBlanc. When you have songs like 5th Avenue Bar, If The Creek Don't Rise or - a highlight of the new record - Part One: The End, you don't need other people's crowd pleasers.