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Finally Friday Goes West With Brennen Leigh and Beau Jennings

Beau Jennings and Brennen Leigh

Finally Friday presents two sets this week that are or would be very much at home in the great state of Oklahoma. Beau Jennings is based there, in the town of Norman, just south of Oklahoma City. While Brennen Leigh’s new music was inspired by Bob Wills and the Western swing tradition. Despite Bob’s band’s moniker, the Texas Playboys wouldn’t have reached the world without a ballroom in Tulsa called Cain’s and a radio station called KVOO. Either way, we’ll be OK.

Most country artists interested in making a tribute to Western swing music would tap the repertoire of Bob Wills and the song catalog of the timeless Cindy Walker, but Nashville’s Brennen Leigh is that rare individual who can write nearly an entire album of songs that would make Bob and Cindy proud to have come up with on their own. Leigh’s Obsessed With The West, out now on Signature Sounds, matches Leigh with the musicianship of latter-day swing icons Asleep At The Wheel, and the results are spectacular.

Leigh’s voice is crisp and seductively close as if recorded in the 1950s, while her songs bring the same wit and craft we heard on her pastoral Prairie Love Letter in 2020. “In Texas With The Band” celebrates the road life of a working ensemble, something Asleep At The Wheel knows well after 50 years. Leigh sings the part of a confident, insouciant ex in “Tell Him I’m Dead.” And the title track is an emotional paean to a lonesome landscape. Leigh elongates her phrasing to bring her imagery and sincerity home. It’s only one of the many flavors of country music that Leigh’s been delivering in recent years, but you can tell this stuff is especially close to her heart.

It’s certainly not rare for hearty-voiced male roots rockers to court comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but Beau Jennings truly has that Pettysteen thing going for him on the new album Heavy Light. Not to typecast the guy at all. He’s a wide-ranging and prolific songwriter, singer and bandleader who’s released a lot of fine music since his 2003 debut. Then he was in Brooklyn as part of the band Cheyenne. Now he’s in Norman bringing some northeast sauce to red dirt country. His band The Tigers represents some of the top flight musicians that populate the busy and thriving eastern OK music scene, and they go after it with wiry confidence and panache. “I’m happy with showing my influences,” Jennings told Jackalope magazine. “I’m not embarrassed when my influences shine through. It’s what I love and I feel that solid songs lead to more solid songs.”

Jennings goes live at noon, with Leigh to follow at 12:30.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.