There’s been an aura of awe and expectation around Dylan LeBlanc since his first batch of recordings, virtually demos made with a friend in Muscle Shoals AL, was discovered and released by England’s Rough Trade Records in 2010. The Smiths, arguably that label’s most famous artists, offer a glimpse of a comparison to LeBlanc, with their gloomy emotionalism and drama on and off the microphone.
LISTEN TO DYLAN LEBLANC ON THE STRING. SEGMENT STARTS AT 37:15.
LeBlanc found himself opening for the likes of Lucinda Williams and then Bruce Springsteen but as a young twenty-something, he’s said, he was an inert, unrelatable performer on stage. He let the work ethic slide and substance use lapse into abuse. Recovery was part of the story of Cautionary Tale, his third disc, released in January of 2016, and so was homecoming. LeBlanc, son of Muscle Shoals session player and songwriter James LeBlanc, spent much of his adolescence hanging around the historic FAME Studio, absorbing sound and process and lore. His somewhat older friend and guide Ben Tanner, turned him on to a lot of music and the ways of record making. Tanner, session keyboard player and member of the Alabama Shakes, produced the album for the Muscle Shoals label he’d co-founded with songwriter John Paul White, Single Lock Records. And it was a breakthrough, a beautiful listen with a more effective balance of doubt and redemption.
Now comes Renegade, released by prestigious indie label ATO and recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A by in-demand super-producer Dave Cobb. Out last Friday, June 7, it’s yet another step forward, and a visit with LeBlanc for WMOT’s The String revealed a 29-year-old who’s done some self-repair and who’s as confident as he’s ever been about speaking directly to his times with songs about immigration, racial justice and, as in the title track, empathy for the marginalized.
"I just think, especially in the world we live in now, it's important to put out a vibe of openness and not be afraid to say what you want to say but also to bring people together in a healthy way,” he says. “And putting trust into myself and putting it out there into the world. It's scary and frightening because you don't know how people are going to receive sensitive topics. (I'm) hoping that people receive this album well and get something out of it and feel that they are known."
Elsewhere, LeBlanc talks about the mentorship of his Muscle Shoals friend Ben Tanner:
"He turned me on to everything. I was from Shreveport. I didn't know where I fit in. I was writing these acoustic songs. People in Shreveport were listening to Nickelback. If it wasn't played on the radio I didn't hear it. So when he turned me on to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska and Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt and Nick Drake, just tons of great songwriters, my mind was completely blown. George Harrison's All Things Must Pass was a mind bending record for me. Perfect in every way. All the music he gave me, it took me two years to get through it."
On moving to Nashville:
"I put off moving here for so long. I love this city so much. But I also love South Louisiana. I just feel so drawn to the Deep South. I like the culture and the relaxed vibe. It's another world. People speak French and they play French music. A lot of my ancestors were from there. So Nashville was...it just became practical to be here. And then I started realizing that there was a scene of really supportive, amazing people here. So gradually it became home."
On the song “Renegade”:
“I knew Renegade was probably going to be the title track. And a lot of the subject matter on this record - there's definitely a theme of current events and social climate. It's not about me. It's about the guys I grew up with that I went to school with. My best friend got in some legal trouble. I saw it happen all my life. These cats that were beautiful people but it was hard for them to escape their neighborhood without becoming a criminal."
Dylan LeBlanc is on tour all summer, returning to Nashville for a show at The Basement East on June 29.