Minnesota born but now Austin based, Brennen Leigh was once a semi-finalist on Nashville Star, but her music is a long way removed from the commercial impetus of modern country media. She has released a string of interesting, low-key albums in the past decade, most recently a set of retro cover duets with Jesse Dayton in 2007. This most recent album consists of mostly melodic mid-paced folky country material with a melancholy tinge, almost all self-penned. She has a real gift for writing attractive melodies allied to thoughtful lyrics, deeply rooted in the traditions of country music. She plays mandolin and/or acoustic guitar throughout the record, with her brother Seth Hulbert on guitar and Tommy Detamore, with whom she produced the record, contributing lovely steel guitar and occasional dobro. Her voice is plaintive and delicately emotional if not very forceful.
She opens with a pensive look at her attitude to the ‘Rolling Green Hills’ of her home, which has turned to restlessness and the need to break away. A happier domestic and pastoral image comes in the Carolina-set ‘Just To Hear My Little Bluebird Sing’.
The love song ‘Distracted’ is an almost loungy ballad with a pretty tune and the steel high in the mix. But the emotions tend more often to the sad and betrayed. ‘You Made A Fool Out Of Me’ is a traditional honky tonk country song about drinking away a heartache with a memorable (and somewhat familiar) tune which I really like, and some tasteful fiddle from Bobby Flores. Addressing the heartbreaker, she declares through the wine,
Well I hope you despise me if you cannot love
Hate is better than nothing at all…
My old childhood friend Depression
Made plans to come and visit today
And I’ll have a new darling companion
There’s no telling how long he might stay
Cause you made a fool out of me
And you can’t even tell me goodbye
You left me here crying and walking the floor
I won’t bother you anymore
My favorite track is the plaintive Louvin Brothers styled ballad ‘Are You Stringing Me Along’, with Seth providing close harmony, as Brennen questions the sincerity of the lover who may have abandoned her, and admits,
I could wait forever if you asked me to
But I’ll never let you know for fear I’d really have to
Brennen’s publishing company Footprints In The Snow takes its name from a line in this song.
Harmony vocals from Jim Lauderdale support the wistful title track, which has Brennen looking over a box of mementos, tangible reminders of a past relationship which she cannot bear to dispose of despite all the urging of her friends saying she is wasting her life brooding over the past.
There are just two outside songs, which fit in nicely with Brennen’s own songs, both featuring her friend Sunny Sweeney on close harmony. The bewildered question posed to the lover who has just left, ‘What’ll I Do’, is written by Wendell Adkins and B Donahue, and the tragic folk-based Montana set story song ‘In The Bighorn Mountains’ comes from Tom VandenAvond, another Austin-based artist.
Sunny co-wrote one song with Brennen, the mid-paced and determined ‘Traveling On’, which is about trying to get over a man and the emotional control he has over the protagonist. It feels a little like a sequel to the lyrically oblique and metaphorical ‘Sleeping With The Devil’ where the protagonist confesses,
I feel no light inside
I gave him all my heart’s blood
He’s run off with my soul
I’ve been sleeping with the devil in control
This sense of darkness and the presence of the devil underpins a number of the tracks. In contrast is the record’s most light hearted and up-tempo moment, the cheerful drinker’s confession ‘Backsliding Blues’, a kind of jug blues. Faced with a preacher demanding to know where she was on Sunday morning after a night’s drinking, she gets
Down in the cold deep water
Gonna wash away all of my sins
Lord almighty how many times do I have to get born again?
‘Something Borrowed’ is a bluegrass lament of a lover’s betrayal, with Sunny and Seth on harmony vocals:
All my love upon your little heart was spent
I thought that it belonged to me but it was only lent
You found someone new
Now our love is old news
I thought I had a better hold on you
But I found out
You’re something borrowed
Now I’m something blue
Closing track ‘Unbroken Line’ is another fine track, with its yodel and haunting lonesome feel suited to its subject matter of bereavement.
This isn’t likely to make many waves commercially, but it is a delightful record.
Distribution is a bit limited, but it seems to be stocked by some dealers. It’s definitely worth seeking out. Check out several of the songs here and here.