In country music, there are truck songs and then there are truck-driving songs. They’re two very different things, and the new single from Brennen Leigh is very much the latter.
Truck-driving country is Dave Dudley and Red Simpson, Jerry Reed’s ‘East Bound and Down’ and CW McCall’s ‘Convoy’, Red Sovine and Dick Curless. It’s Kathy Mattea’s ‘Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses’ and Norma Jean’s ‘Truck Driving Woman’. Songs about commercial long haul truck drivers, the lives they lead out on the road and the lives they leave behind, packed full of in-jokes and C.B. radio banter, romance, heartbreak and loneliness.
Ever since the first ever truck-driving country song, Cliff Bruner and His Boys’ ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’ in 1939, all the way through to its golden age in the mid-60s and its resurgence in the 70s, the curious sub-genre is like a time capsule of an era when truck drivers were American folk heroes. Not to be confused with the contemporary phenomenon of bro-country truck songs, where the frequent mention of personal-use pickup trucks is usually just a pick-up line with phallic undertones.
Now classic old school trucker-country is being dragged screeching into the modern age with the Bakersfield country twang of Brennen Leigh and her ode to a real-life lady trucker ‘Carole With an ‘E.’ Written with Mallory Eagle, it’s a paean to wanderlust and the freedom of the open highway, as the titular Carole puts the “hammer down on eighteen wheels” in her “pearls and kitten heels” and leaves her lover behind to the blasts of Red Sovine coming from her cab.
“I’m a fan of trucker country,” Brennen Leigh told us, “the sub-genre of country music that’s exclusively about long haul trucking and all its idiosyncrasies. Although I’m not a member of trucker culture, I’m fascinated by it, and I relate to the songs. They’re true Americana, in the real sense of the word. So, when Mallory came over one day and suggested we write an anthem about her trucker neighbor back in Oklahoma, I was into it. We tried to keep as true as we could to Carole’s real story. She’s become something of a movement for us. Carole, in my understanding, is this tough, beautiful lady who happens to drive for a living. I find her irresistible.”
“We had to do some research into the lingo,” she adds. “Which is as sophisticated as any poetry I’ve ever read. I dare you to find higher art than the poetry of CW McCall.”
Like Carole, Brennen Leigh’s career is a testament to finding your lane and staying in it. She’s been carving out a place for herself in country music’s grand history ever since she first released Lonesome, Wild & Blue all the way back in 2002.
Born in Fargo, incubated in Austin and now living in Nashville, Brennen Leigh has been weaving her way through country, folk and bluegrass for the best part of 20 years, and her songs have been recorded by Lee Ann Womack, Rodney Crowell, Sunny Sweeney, Charley Crockett and many others.
“Brennen Leigh plays guitar like a motherfucker,” Guy Clark once said of her flatpicking style, and she’s become as renowned for her musicianship as she has for her songwriting. Rodney Crowell once describing her as “a story-telling poet, landscape painter, passionate observer of the human condition and a cultural preservationist.” You don’t get a much bigger recommendation in country music than that.
Her last album, Obsessed with the West, was a collaboration between Leigh and the kings of modern-day western swing, Asleep at the Wheel. Her forthcoming album, the Chris Scruggs-produced Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet, takes another sharp left at the honky tonk with a musical detour that promises to be one of this year’s standout country records.
“I’m in love with this idea of the real Nashville. The idyllic Golden Age, which, to me, is around 1967, 1968, because of the alchemy, the explosion that occurred, with the best country music songwriters ever, the best singers in country music.”
Like the other songs on Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet, ’Carole With an E’ echoes the best of the era, when bluegrass-fuelled tunes, beer soaked honky-tonk ballads and hard-country weepers burst forth from AM transistor radios. The album’s country roots run deep, with guests like Marty Stuart and Rodney Crowell and a line-up of top-flight musicians.
The brilliant video for ‘Carole with an E’, directed by Jesse Weeden, is premiering exclusively at Holler below.
Brennen pulled in a few favours and got to borrow a big rig to shoot the video for ‘Carole With an E’ and Joshua Hedley even makes a cameo, along with a few other familiar faces.
“We were lucky enough to get a few Nashville legends to play parts in the video," says Leigh. "Including the album’s producer and guitar player Chris Scruggs, who stepped in as line cook. Tommy Hannum, who played steel on the album, served as kitchen help in the video. I’m truly honored everyone showed up and had fun with it.”
“I asked Mallory to play Carole in the video, and she went all in, found the costumes and helped with our storyline. Jesse Weeden - director and one-man camera crew - blew us away with his vision and skill. Our little film turned out beautifully, thanks in part to some friends generous with their time and sense of humor.”
Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet is released on June 16th on Signature Sounds. Click here to pre-order. Brennen Leigh will be performing at this year’s Black Deer Festival in the UK.