My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Hilary Sloan

Album Review: Miss Leslie – ‘Lucky’

luckyNeo-honky tonk favorite Miss Leslie is ringing the changes with her latest, Kickstarter-funded project. Miss Leslie wrote 11 of the 13 songs, and the mood is a depressed one, clearly influenced by her recent divorce. This is a much more introspective and less hardcore honky tonk record than she has released previously, but it is a fine record in its own terms. She sounds better vocally than she ever has before, and the songs, while mostly downbeat, are mature and well written.

One highlight is the quietly melancholic ballad ‘I Don’t Go There’, with the protagonist choosing not to revive an adulterous relationship because of the pain it would cause all concerned. A pretty, soothing melody and Amber Digby’s delicate harmony do not hide the pain of loss. The wearied ‘Honky Tonkin’ Fool’ is similarly gently sad rather than defiant, not what I was expecting from the title but good in its own way.

The pain and anger of splitting is evident in ‘I Get The Bar’, another of my favorites, on which Miss Leslie’s own fiddle and the honky tonk piano give a more traditional sound. Here, the narrator is happy for her ex to take all their material possessions, as long as she gets sole use of the bar they frequented together. Her assertive attitude includes a nice little swipe at her ex:

I think you’ll be okay
Your friends like me better anyway
You can keep the bartender
And all the other girls you screwed
Cause I get the band
I get the beer
And I get the bar

But although there is a vein of wry black comedy running through it, this is no triumphant seeing off of an ex; the vulnerability of heartbreak remains at the heart of the matter:

You can have my heart
It’s yours already
Because it’s worthless
Cause it’s broken in two

Also with a sense of humor but much lighter in mood is the cheerful honky tonker ‘You Were Drunker than I Was’, which rehashes a series of drunken misadventures. The change of both mood and pace is very welcome. Also on the positive side, ballad ‘Fifty Years Ago Today’ is a sweet tribute to an older couple on their golden wedding anniversary, inspired by her former husband’s parents.

‘After The Storm’ contrasts bad weather with a failing relationship, with a wistful Miss Leslie ending up looking forward to dealing with the aftermath of two shattered hearts. ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ is not quite as good, but another slightly depressed ballad about struggling with the emotions of a relationship on the rocks. ‘This Old Guitar’ is a slightly downbeat song using a favourite instrument as a metaphor to evoke the sorrow of lost love, with a stripped down arrangement with just guitar and steel.

A couple of the tracks have little connection with country music. The bluesy groove of ‘I’ll Take What I Can Get’ is a bit boring, and ‘It’s Rainin’ Inside’ is a sophisticated jazzy ballad with strings which is extremely well done, just not really to my taste.

‘Outside The Outsiders’ took a while to grow on me, but it is an interesting, thoughtful look at the struggles of a lonely life. An accordion adds a faint Tex-Mex feel to the tune. A more subdued accordion is in the mix for ‘Angels That Promise The Stars’, which was written by Miss Leslie’s sister Hilary Sloan. Another introspective ballad with a poetic, somewhat obscure lyric about a troubled soul and gentle tune, assisted by Amber Digby’s close harmony.

The only truly outside song, the steel-laden ‘Nice Girl’ (written by Davin James) is a well-written song with unusual clipped phrasing. It is the lament of the woman who has been done wrong and is taking refuge in the kind of dive she wouldn’t normally be seen in:

This girl’s been too good too long
For a man who couldn’t see
A lady has the right to deal with loneliness
That’s what a nice girl like me
Is doing in a place like this.

Although it may be a change in style from her earlier work, this fine and clearly largely autobiographical record represents a maturation of Miss Leslie as an artist. It’s well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Available from Miss Leslie’s website.

Album Review: Miss Leslie – ‘Wrong Is What I Do Best’

This blog’s very first Spotlight Artist, back in January 2009, was the independent neotraditionalist Miss Leslie, who has just released her fourth album. She is not as great a vocalist as Amber Digby (to whom she can be compared in many respects) , but she has the advantage over her of being a songwriter. She has written all but one of the 14 songs on this album, and they are all pretty solid songs in the traditional honky tonk style. The instrumental backing is positively drenched with Miss Leslie’s own fiddle and her husband Ricky Davis on steel, and this record is a sheer joy to listen to from start to finish.

Miss Leslie balances her musical diet of hard honky tonk music and themes rooted in the traditions of country music, with the sensibility and experiences of a 21st century woman in what she calls a ‘patriarchal world’ in the liner notes. These contemporary attitudes are evident from the opening track ‘I Need Me (A Whole Lot More Than I Need You)’ as the protagonist determinedly reclaims some self-respect when she decides she’s better off single and lonely than trying to be what her lover wants.

The theme almost bookends the set, as towards the end of the album we see someone defeated in the same battle. ‘She Gave Up On Herself’ tells the story of a woman who gives too much of herself to the man “she thought she needed so bad” and loses “the best thing she had”, her sense of self. The protagonist of ‘I Can’t Live With You, But I Can’t Love Without You’, is determined not to make that mistake, as she struggles to cope with a difficult relationship, where love is not enough to make everything okay.

Modern technology makes an appearance in the irresistible up-tempo tale of the ‘Drunk Dialer’, who incessantly calls, voicemails and texts her unfortunate sober and sleeping friends through the early hours of the morning. The vibrant title track balances traditional themes with the modern world, with Miss Leslie boldly claiming the honky tonking attitude more usually associated with male performers:

You say that it’s wrong
You’re tired of me leavin’
You’re tired of my late nights
Drunk fights
And mornings without a sound
You got one thing right
I’ve stopped believing
And it makes no sense at all
For me to stick around

Because wrong is what I do best
If I’m not good enough for you
I’ve got one choice left
I try to do what’s right but I end up wrong
And I’m tired of failing all your tests
Because wrong is what I do best

A little more conventionally, ‘Anyone’ is a neat little swipe at an ex who claimed anyone would be better than her, and finds out the hard way he’s wrong:

Anyone could love him and I hear he’s had a few
Yet he still goes on searching for just anyone that will do
So he’s found out that not anyone could be everything he needs
He’s not looking for just anyone
He’s just looking for me

Sad songs and broken hearts are the life blood of country music, and I love the classic sounding heartbreak ballad ‘Turn Around’, where Leslie begs her man not to leave, with copious steel and a beautiful tune. In the deeply resigned ‘All You Do Is Make Me Cry’ the protagonist has given up, realizing there’s no point talking it over any more. ‘There’s Two People Here Not Talking’ is a wry look at a couple not communicating.

Elsewhere, we share the story of a lovelorn woman with a crush on the guitarist playing in her local bar ‘Every Tuesday Night’, with its wider resonance:

Love is just a memory for a broken heart
As you try hard to forget who you have known
But a honky tonk can cure what pulls us all apart
For we’re fools who once a week rely on songs to turn us on

There is clearly going to be a happier ending for the couple in the engaging ‘Let’s Start Over’, as independent traditional country artist Jason Allen joins her on a very retro-styled let’s-get-back-together duet which is very pleasing, with their voices blending well.

There really isn’t a track here I don’t like; the closest is the up-tempo ‘Lie Lie Lie’, which is just okay but doesn’t stick in the mind. The dramatic closing track ‘The Last Time I Drank’ is the confession by a woman who kills her child drunk driving. This may verge a little on the melodramatic, but it is emotionally convincing, and is part of a long tradition of tragic songs of this kind in country music.

The one song Leslie did not write herself comes from her sister Hilary Sloan, and moves out of the honky tonks. ‘Some Things They Can’t Take Away’ is a serious and heartfelt response to the economic downturn, based on its impact on one person. This deeply emotional, sympathetically delivered, song is the highlight of the record, urging a loved one who can’t find work and is struggling to make ends meet, to hold on to their undying human spirit:

Hold on to the little that’s left of your pride
Keep it close to you deep down inside
And remember there’s one who will love you always
Some things they can’t take away

You imagined that you’d find a better life here
Couldn’t get no worse, this must be your year
If you could only break even, then you’d be okay
But you’re back to begging – you’d do anything

Miss Leslie is an artist who is getting better with every release, and this album is thoroughly recommended to anyone who enjoys the more traditional honky tonk end of country music.

Grade: A

You can listen to and buy the Wrong Is What I Do Best from Miss Leslie’s official site.

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