Dylan LeBlanc & Aaron Lee Tasjan
About Dylan LeBlanc:
Dylan LeBlanc knows second chances don’t come around often. But, neither do voices like his.
Overwhelmed by the speed his gift would take him, from Applebee’s server to “the new Neil Young” in a matter of months, he walked away from an unlikely major label deal after releasing two critically acclaimed albums. He slipped into a blur of booze and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at just 23-years-old, Dylan came home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to write a new life for himself.
In between the moments of clarity and a few familiar falls, he also wrote a new album, Cautionary Tale: a collection of shimmering, arresting songs with the same haunting vocals that caught the attention of Lucinda Williams and Bruce Springsteen, now with a sharpened edge honed by hastened maturity.
“This record is about me getting honest with myself,” says Dylan. “I had to let the guilt about the past go and find a new truth within myself. This time, I felt like I really had something to say.”
To help him say it, he sought out long-time friend Ben Tanner, the same guy who had secretly helped Dylan record his first songs after hours while working at fabled FAME Studios. (He also introduced a 16-year-old Dylan to Wilco, George Harrison, and Ryan Adams by way of an external hard drive). In between touring with Alabama Shakes, Ben was beginning to engineer records again at the label he started with another friend of Dylan’s, Grammy Award-winning musician John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars. The two both produced and played on Cautionary Tale.
“They prevented me from burying my words,” says Dylan. “Doubt can often be my first instinct, and I’ll try to cover things up with more elements to hide my voice, but I made up my mind to trust them. I heard Merle Haggard say once that the singer is secondary to the song, and they both helped me build a strong foundation for the emotions I was feeling.”
The stripped down aesthetic that John Paul and Ben have made their label’s calling card sets Dylan’s voice in a light bright enough to see the patina the last few years has left behind.
“I spent a lot of time writing about programming and conditioning and the idea of ego,” says Dylan. “I don’t want to rely on my circumstances or the past to say why I am the way I am anymore. A lot of my songs like ‘Cautionary Tale’ and ‘Look How Far We’ve Come’ are about trying to break out of a vicious cycle. I was wondering if I could find my solutions from within—if I could believe in something beyond the present.”
If Dylan was wandering through a cemetery with his first album Paupers Field (“Songs are like headstones to me,” he told The Guardian), Cautionary Tale is an abandoned desert town. He reflects on what once was, and if anything could be again. At times, he wonders if the signs of life he sees on the horizon are real or just a mirage. Phantasmic, warbling voices in the background rise to meet his own and fade into the ether; ghostly guitar riffs echo in the emptiness around him.
Finding the right arrangement and words was a more deliberate effort for Dylan this time. After feeling lost in the “mania” of recording his first two albums, he relied on Ben and John Paul to help him collect the pieces of his vision.
“I’ve definitely become more disciplined. I don’t count on things like inspiration anymore,” says Dylan. “I learned so much from putting songs together with John Paul. Anything he does, it’s always going to be well-thought-out and well-placed. I’m naturally an improv guy, but now I see how that can be more limiting than planning your next move.”
That new-found discipline shows. Never one to write out parts, Dylan methodically scored the stunning string sections with violinist Kimi Samson and cellist Caleb Elliot. To form the polished rhythm section he wanted to drive songs like “The Easy Way Out” and “Beyond the Veil,” he paired drummer Jeremy Gibson with Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell (“I wanted it to feel like a Bill Withers record or Al Green—soulful, but tight.”)
While Dylan will be the first to admit he wasn’t ready to stand on the stages he played early in his career, there’s no doubting he is now. With a recalibrated compass, he’s back on the road opening sold-out shows for British singer-songwriter George Ezra, another artist praised for a wizened voice beyond his years.
Dylan will continue to support George through September 2015, including a show at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium. Next, he’ll embark on his solo tour with dates throughout the South, Midwest, and New England.
“After everything I’ve gone through, I still love putting records out and singing for people, no matter how big or small the crowd,” says Dylan. “It’s the only thing I want to do, and now I get to keep doing it as a more well-rounded person. I guess I’m blessed or whatever the hell you want to call it.”
East Nashville-based musician Aaron Lee Tasjan has always considered himself a songwriter first and foremost, writing his own off-kilter folk-inflected songs since he picked up his first acoustic as a teen guitar prodigy. “A lot of the stuff I did previously was never the main focal point,” Tasjan explains. “It’s all just been pieces along the way.” His soon to be released Silver Tears (New West Records – Oct. 2016) will offer a glimpse through the eyes of one gifted songwriter and versatile musician. Whether playing guitar in the late incarnation of riotous glam-rock innovators the New York Dolls, the gender-bending, envelope-pushing sleaze n’ tease arena rock band Semi Precious Weapons, the Neil Young-signed alt-country act Everest, British roots rock band Alberta Cross, Southern rock stalwarts Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ or even as frontman of the devilishly cleverly-named Heartbreakers meets Replacements rockers Madison Square Gardeners, offer a glimpse through the eyes of one gifted songwriter and versatile musician.
While those stints may have never been his main destination, each one has been a stepping stone that has uniquely informed his songwriting and made him a compelling, singular artist. Tasjan’s songs, as first heard on his debut solo EP, 2014’s Crooked River Burning, are indebted to great American storytellers like John Prine, Tom Petty, Guy Clark, Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie and Todd Snider. They are imbued with wry wit, a sharp tongue and a lot of heart.
Last year’s self-released LP, In The Blazes, received accolades from American Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Nashville Scene and NPR and suggested Tasjan was an artist to keep an eye on. While that album hinted at Tasjan’s enormous potential, it’s his sophomore effort, his New West Records debut, Silver Tears, that best realizes his artistic ambitions and solidifies him as one of the most intriguing singer/songwriters to emerge in sometime. An inspired and confident set of songs, the 12-track album, which features a cover with Tasjan decked out in a reflective suit and Stetson, careens from woozy pot paeans to brooding, cinematic observations to laid back ‘70s country-rock and galloping anthems to introspective folk and rollicking honky-tonk. “I might have made something that will surprise people,” Tasjan admits. “I didn’t completely abandon the recipe, but I really stretched myself and pushed beyond what people might expect from me. Being true as a musician, I’m not just one thing – and a variety of styles is a way to accomplish that. “
As in the song “On Your Side,” which sees Tasjan warble, “I sing jokes/And call 'em songs/Nobody knows where they belong/I've come up short/For far too long/And what felt right/Now feels so wrong,” Tasjan often turns the mirror on himself, never afraid to cast himself in a negative light. “One of the reasons I’ve been able to connect with people is by being honest and saying this is a really realistic picture of who I am,” he says. “It’s not always the good but it’s me.”
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$15 General Admission
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