I was going to review the Crazy Heart soundtrack this week, but my brother did such an excellent write-up of both the film and the music on Twangville today, and since I’ve already written about a little bit about it, I’m just going to urge you to check his work out and write to the Nickelodeon to kindly ask them to have a screening (and while you are at it, tell them they are doing an awesome job and throw some money towards their capital campaign).
However, since I’m trying to blog once a week (a meaningless self-imposed goal, but this is all a vanity exercise anyway) I’m going review a record that came out a couple of years ago from an amazing singer/songwriter out of Charleston, SC, Mac Leaphart. Doing a full review of Leaphart fills right today, since he is playing tomorrow night at New Brookland Tavern with American Aquarium and The Restoration, and I’ve already mentioned that he is playing in the singer/songwriter in the round night at The White Mule on Feb. 12th with Zach Seibert and Todd Mathis (of American Gun), which gets three of my favorite songwriters and some of the best songs coming out of SC all in one room. Also, more than any other local musician I know, Leaphart writes songs that strive to live up to the myths evoked by Crazy Heart, and I mean that in the best way possible.
His record, Line. Rope. Etc., is a songwriting tour-de-force, with tightly-written tunes that draw from the best of the country-folk tradition (think Kristofferson, John Prine, Gram Parsons), and a few times allows himself to slip into the comfortable sweet spot between Southern rock n’ roll and pure honky-tonk bliss. As a songwriter Leaphart sticks fairly close to time-tested country music topics, but somehow the songs end up feeling entirely evocative and original at the same time. The best tune on the record is “Confederate Roses,” which meanders its way through the story of a husband to-be murdering his fiancé and her lover. The song, written from the perspective of the killer, is so full of regret and understanding that it takes something wholly archetypal and makes it new. Here is the first verse, which is a textbook example of how songwriting can tell so much with so few words:
When I stood at the altar, I’d lived half a life
And she was too young to be any man’s wife.
She had a wildness that I couldn’t tame
And all I had on her was my family name.
And I watched as she watched him with her eyes burning wild.
And I knew I could never give her that smile.
She was so restless, so I pretended not to know.
But it just kept at me—lord, I couldn’t let it go.
Elsewhere Leaphart utilizes the talents of his good friend and SC folk legend Danielle Howle, who contributes urgent harmony vocals on the lovelorn opener “No Way” and the elegant twang of the country duet “Cold Hard Truth.” The latter opens with the line “you could write a book with the words we wasted,” and even though you know where the rest of the song is going, you can still bask in the gorgeousness of the two’s voices and the understated pedal steel that bolsters the tune. The song’s musical and lyrical cousin is a tune that Leaphart sings with much more bravado, “White Line Mercy,” a honky-tonk lament praying “lord have mercy on the man whose woman loves cocaine,” a line which tenderly changes to “lord have mercy on that little girl who loves that goddamn cocaine” at the end of the song.
Throughout the record Leaphart shows a deft touch in his evocation of all things Southern—screen doors slam, old men brown-bag whiskey, and we’re all trying to get saved after partying a little too hard the night before. If those things don’t make you ache a little bit, you are gonna have a hard time convincing anyone you have a Southern soul. Come out tomorrow night, or Feb. 12th, or just download the guys record (he gives it away on his website) to see what I’m talking about.