Photography by Kendall Wilson
Brennen Leigh is exactly what country music is all about, the perfect balance of heartbreak and humour. Whilst her voice may be of a bygone era, her lyrics are anything but.
A modern woman singing old-timey melodies, she honours the timeless sounds of traditional country whilst liberating them with her fresh takes and entertaining storytelling.
As if achieving the impossible, her Black Deer performance was made all the better by the steadfast presence of Melissa Carper on bass and backing vocals.
Sheltering from the midday heat inside Haley’s Bar, the very first few notes of Leigh’s intricate guitar and Carper’s bass fill the tent with light harmony, as the two friends transport the audience to another place and time.
As soon as Leigh’s voice began to float out into the sunshine, the tent quickly begins to fill.
Her smooth vocals make for the perfect rendition of Whitney Rose’s ‘Analog’, a nostalgic song about loving things the old-fashioned way, singing, “I wanna hear that nail just skippin' / on my old hi-fi” as Carper plucks away on bass.
Rolling with the theme of nostalgia, Leigh introduced her next song as one about “going back home and not recognising anybody, including yourself.”
Hailing originally from North Dakota, Leigh touches on the inescapable feeling that everything has changed, as she asks the locals, “Don’t you know I’m from here?”.
Photography by Kendall Wilson
A theme queen, she rolls easily into ‘Prairie Funeral’, a song inspired by the Scandinavian heritage of her hometown and the slow dilution and demise of its beautiful culture. Leigh’s delicate guitar plucking and Carper’s steady bass create the perfect backdrop to some immaculate storytelling.
In between songs, Leigh also excels at entertaining the crowd with light patter and a lesson in US geography, accompanied by some enthusiastic whoops from the crowd.
She plugs the music of Tommy Duncan and The Texas Playboys, urging the audience to listen to their music, before playing her own ode to the man himself in ‘If Tommy Duncan’s Voice Was Booze’.
‘Tell Him I’m Dead’ offers advice on the best way to ghost someone - the ultimate “Irish goodbye” of relationships - by faking your own death.
Despite sound interference from the main stage, Leigh masterfully laughs it off, quipping about how good the performers sound. She then swiftly fills a few eyes with tears with ‘Billy and Beau’, the audience captivated as Leigh and Carper sing, “the heart wants to go where the heart wants to go”.
An expert at the aforementioned duality of country music, Leigh skips straight into the humour-filled but fantastically feminist ‘Carole With An E’, about a pearl-donning, kitten heel-wearing trucker who don’t take no shit.
‘The Red Flags You Were Waving’, ‘Running Out Of Hope’, ‘Arkansas’ and ‘You Turned Into A Dragon’ all cement Leigh’s unique way with words and ability to interleave both comedy and poignancy.
In the space of an hour, Leigh has journeyed from joy to jest for what was a flawless set, with a little melancholy thrown in for good measure.
Brennen Leigh - Setlist
Taken from her set with Melissa Carper at Black Deer Festival on Friday, June 16, 2023 at Eridge Park, Kent.
For more coverage on Black Deer Festival 2023, see below: