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James LeBlanc

Nature of the Beat – 2017 (Dreamlined)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by James LeBlanc

James LeBlanc's second full-length release, nearly a decade and a half after his debut "Muscle Shoals City Limits" which featured his composition "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" that was a hit for Travis Tritt, is a mix of country, folk and southern rock with mostly good results. The set kicks off nicely with the title track, a dark acoustic ballad that projects a fear of the future ("There's a boy in this man that don't want to grow up/I go out of my way just to get myself stuck" and "I can't outrun what's in these veins") that recalls some of Rodney Crowell's work.

The southern rock influence is evident on the civil war saga "Yankee Bank," evocative of the Band, as well as "Answers" (written by son Dylan LeBlanc) and "Coming of Age" which are reminiscent of the Eagles. LeBlanc's most impassioned vocals are on "I Ain't Easy to Love," an appealing duet co-written and performed with 2007 "Nashville Star" winner Angela Hacker. The lone cover is an effective take on Shel Silverstein's 1962 comic folk song "Beans Taste Fine," inexplicably listed here as simply "Beans."

Produced by LeBlanc and Jimmy Nutt the musicianship is solid throughout particularly with Walt Aldridge (mandolin) and Wayne Bridge (steel guitar). Some tracks suffer a bit from overproduction, in particular burying LeBlanc's vocal in muddled mixes on "Nothing But Smoke" and "Mean Right Hand." Despite the occasional misstep in production "Nature of the Beast" succeeds due to LeBlanc's smart compositions and pleasant vocals and creates the hope that there will not be another prolonged gap before his next effort.