Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Chris Leigh and the Broken Hearts - Broken Hearted Friends

Somewhere in the past several years, country music has experienced a shift in style. While subtle
elements like songs about the everyday man and love and family still undergird things to some degree, there’s been a swell of raging rock ‘n’ roll guitars, dancehall riffs, and more. Sure, there’s a steel guitar fill here or a touch of banjo there but, suffice it to say, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish country from the pop and rock that’s ruling the charts these days.

And while the good or bad of those shifts in the country style are always up for debate, there are some who’ve continued to make hay performing true, classic country music. Artists and musicians like Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam, Jim Lauderdale, Shooter Jennings, and more have fought long and hard to preserve country music culture and authenticity while making great music. And along the way, they’ve inspired countless numbers of rising artists, artists like Kentucky-based Chris Leigh and the Broken Hearts to forge a path true to that of classic country and on his debut record, Broken Hearted Friends, he does just that.

“Three years ago my wife left me,” Leigh shares. “I sat there in an empty house wondering what to do with my life. I thought about all the things I should have done and picked up the guitar and started playing. These songs just came out.”

Those songs are cut from the same thread as great artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Lyle Lovett, among others, managing to capture slices of life that celebrate and lament the process of love and loss, redemption, and everything in between. Leigh’s lyrics are such that capture the seriousness of these situations, conveying the sense of pain and heartache that accompany much of this journey while always managing to keep something of a smile at the edge.

A great case in point is the great weeper, “If You Make It To Heaven,” where, surrounded by a plodding acoustic guitar lead and steel guitar fills providing key emotive vibes, the artist sings of the woes of the world before hitting the chorus where he sings, “If you make it to heaven/Tell ‘em I’m not doing well/Could they send me an angel/’Cause I’ve done my time/Here in hell.” It’s a serious lyric but, somewhere in there, you can picture a smile in Leigh’s eye as he sings it, perhaps since he’s experienced the redemption the song hints at.

And while Leigh has not shortage of heartfelt moments, with songs such as “Like I Love You Forever,” carrying a homespun father’s love along a mid-tempo, swaying arrangement, the artist clearly still likes to let loose, something he does with abandon on “Ramblin’ Man.” The type of track that clearly sees him drawing comparisons to Yoakam and Cash, complete with a “boom chicka” guitar line, Leigh chews off his vocals with pleasure, chewing them up and spitting them out with country-flavored gusto.

Classic country sounds get a heartfelt nod with tracks like the tear in my beer weeper, “Heartache & Misery,” while “Whiskey River” takes a more direct nod, naming the point of its homage, none other than Willie Nelson, within the lyric. Leigh also harnesses the great story songs of country gone by as he sings out “The Ballad of Bobbie Sue.” Despite its longer track length and vintage lyrical style, it’s actually one of the more contemporary sounding songs here, the chorus ripping with emotion fueled by Leigh’s capable vocal delivery.

While country music fans continue to battle over what country really is, there are still artists like Chris Leigh who shoot from the hip, drawing from their life experiences, and putting it to music. Inspired by the great musicians of then and now, Leigh takes those inspirations and weaves them into a sound that, while reminiscent of the past, is resolutely his and that honest authenticity permeates this entire release. For those weary of country radio’s slick, pop-laden fills, Chris Leigh and the Broken Hearts’ music is a breath of fresh air.

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