Dylan LeBlanc’s backstory follows the country template almost to perfection: early promise fully realised in a meteoric rise to acclaim, great debut album (Paupers Field), slighty more tricky second release (Cast The Same Old Shadow), followed by self-doubt, drinking and dark days. Luckily for all of us, this story, with its echoes of Williams and Parsons, has a happier development. LeBlanc found himself again in Muscle Shoals (home of FAME studios) and has used his fall from grace as inspiration for the set of 10 songs that comprise Cautionary Tale.
The third studio long-player from the Muscle Shoals-born crooner, the aptly named Cautionary Tale finds Dylan LeBlanc exorcizing some personal demons while injecting some much needed pomp and circumstance into his signature blend of breezy, '70s West Coast singer/songwriter pop and Bible Belt-bred gothic Americana. A conscious attempt to avoid relying on the self-described "sad bastard songs" that were so prevalent on his prior two releases, Cautionary Tale doesn't exactly shake the rafters, but the addition of a rhythm section, along with copious amounts of cello, violin, and viola, certainly helps to expand the young troubadour's sound. His high and lonesome croon, a velvety mix of After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young, James Bay, and Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold, sits much higher in the mix this time around, and imbues highlights like the lush and lovely Eagles-esque "Roll the Dice," the snappy and soulful "Easy Way Out," and the road trip-ready title cut with an air of confidence that had been missing up to now.
Two years ago, drinking too much and plagued by self-doubt despite the warm reception afforded his first two albums, Dylan LeBlanc moved back to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he’d grown up with his session musician father. The return home has resulted in another strong set of subtly realised and beautifully arranged country-soul, only this time some of his earlier bleakness has been switched for a newfound pop sensibility. Roll the Dice, in particular, is a delight, its unhurried, pretty melody fighting a drowsily melancholic undertow.
One can only presume the note on the back sleeve – “this record is enjoyed properly at maximum volume” – was written with a smile. Louisiana-born Dylan LeBlanc has never been about rattling the foundations, rather he specialises in country folk as smooth as a freshly shaven eel. He has been compared to Neil Young, but the rough edges that define the Canadian icon are sanded down here, making this third album a pleasant but occasionally unengaging listen.
We are not, nor have we ever been, short on young, white, male singer-songwriters: Moody, earnest, troubled and usually in their mid-twenties, wielding an acoustic guitar and writing songs ranging from thoughtfully introspective to blissfully unaware. Enter Dylan LeBlanc, a 25-year-old Louisiana native. According to his bio, LeBlanc found himself, at 23, "exhausted and damaged," thanks to alcohol and hard living.