By Hal Horowitz
Brennen Leigh returns with another winning entry into a catalog that revels in country music’s heyday avoiding anything clichéd or corny.
1. Running Out of Hope, Arkansas
2. Somebody's Drinking About You
3. The Red Flags You Were Waving
4. I Ain't Through Honky Tonkin' Yet
5. Mississippi Rendezvous
6. Carole With An E
7. The Bar Should Say Thanks
8. Every Time I Do
9. Throwing Away a Precious Jewel
10. I'm Still Looking for You
11. When Lonely Came to Town
Look no further than this album’s title for a sense of what singer/songwriter Brennen Leigh has in store on her follow-up to 2022’s superb western swing collection Obsessed With the West.
Leigh prides herself on being a traditionalist. From her album of Lefty Frizzell covers to 2020’s acoustic folk/country Prairie Love Letter and 2013’s George and Tammy styled duets with singer Noel McKay, her heart seems stuck in the 60s and 70s golden era of country radio.
It helps to have talented friends aboard. Between last album’s Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel) assist and this one with Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives’ bassist Chris Scruggs as producer (Stuart also contributes mandolin) the quality bar is high.
From the sprightly opening bluegrass of ‘Running Out of Hope, Arkansas’ about a young girl ready to start life somewhere other than the nowhere town she was raised in (“It don’t matter where I’m headed / Only that I’m gone”) to the closing fiddle enhanced honky-tonk of ‘You Turned Into a Dragon’ (referring to a tattoo of an ex that the protagonist had altered into the titular monster), Leigh’s sharp lyrics and sweet voice relate these dozen convincing country sagas with genuine sincerity and an occasional spirited dose of humor.
If the fuzzy cover photo of Leigh leaning on an old juke box doesn’t create the mood, the songs set themselves up without having to hear them. ‘The Bar Should Say Thanks’, ‘Somebody’s Drinking About You’, ‘When Lonely Came to Town’ are exactly as you’d imagine; gobs of pedal steel, fiddle, acoustic piano, upright bass, and reverbed guitar with the twang ramped up to 10. The easy flowing melodies from these originals are so effortlessly enticing you’ll swear you’ve heard them before by Loretta, Tammy, or Dolly.
It’s flashback to Patsy Cline time as she digs into the honeyed countrypolitan weeper ‘Every Time I Do’, especially when the backing singers join in with ahh-ahh-ahhs on “I don’t know when I hate myself more / When I’m with you or when I walk through my front door’. Classic stuff.
Naysayers might claim that these songs - about lousy men who have done Leigh wrong (‘The Red Flags You Were Waving’), cheating couples (‘Mississippi Rendezvous’) or wrecked relationships (‘I’m Still Looking for You’) - wallow in topics that have been covered repeatedly in country music. But that’s the point.
Brennen Leigh finds fresh ways to articulate these timeworn tales. Between her wonderfully nuanced vocals and musical arrangements recalling earlier days without sounding excessively retro, she returns with another winning entry into a catalog that revels in country music’s heyday avoiding anything clichéd or corny.
Grab some quarters and join her at the jukebox.
Brennen Leigh's Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet is out on June 16th 2023 on Signature Sounds