by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
Like Jason Isbell and so many others before him, singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc hit bottom a few years back and emerged with a brilliant recounting and reckoning in the form of his new Cautionary Tale. Produced by John Paul White (formerly of the Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (of the Alabama Shakes), the early ’70s-inspired album opens with a title track/mission statement that calls everything on the table into question: “Not much to be said when my heart and my head still deceive me,” he acknowledges with a knowing lyrical shrug. “Don’t offer up help that you know that I won’t be needing, ’cause I do it to myself like I never get tired of bleeding.” As they say, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well… mission accomplished… several times over.
On song after glorious song, the singer struggles to find his existential footing, as he stands on the rather unsteady, if not altogether unfamiliar, ground of sobriety. “Cross my heart and hope to die… unless you got something better,” LeBlanc offers in “Easy Way Out,” as he culls through the options at hand sounding more than a little like Gold Rush-era Neil Young. It’s when he turns his gaze back to his past that the causes and complaints come into sharper focus: “The lash I felt from the Bible belt brought me down on my knees, when I thought that I could stand on my own two feet. Now thorazine dreams are thundering in dangerous weather. In my head, I’ll soon be dead or soon feeling better.” Thankfully, the latter came to pass.
For being in his mid-20s, LeBlanc has walked through more darkness than most will ever see. That he has turned those experiences into a piece of art this honest and honorable makes it all the more remarkable. Not surprisingly, Cautionary Tale is very much this year’s Southeastern.