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Ali McGhee has a Ph.D. in English...
"Can I trust you now not to pull me out of this cautionary tale that you know I won't be reading?"
Dylan LeBlanc's latest album, Cautionary Tale (Single Lock Records), opens with the title track, in which LeBlanc muses on his inability--or unwillingness--to watch where he's going with the poetic insight of a man on the other side of the journey. Layered vocals swell over jangly guitar, violins, and percussion on what is perhaps the most upbeat song of the bunch. But the content here, as with all of the songs on the LP, is pensive, meditative, inflected by the maturity of someone who has stepped into the crucible of transformation in all of its fiery explosiveness and returned to tell about it. Lucky for us, he'll be in the neighborhood to share his story. LeBlanc plays West Asheville's Mothlight on Tuesday, December 6th at 9:30 pm.
If I had to sum up the theme of this album, it would be something like this: the inevitable realization that the work we must do to move forward in this life is always worth doing, even though it might kick us in the ass. The things that are worth the most in this life come with a price: the peeling away of our own layers of hiding, self-doubt, addiction, and fear, which clear the path for us to step into open space and take a breath.
LeBlanc has been playing music for most of his life, and he's got a distinctive alt-country sound that fits perfectly with his subject matter. His lilting voice, which possesses a crystalline edge that might seem frail if it weren't so steady and pure, adds an element of the ethereal to each song. It's a voice that sounds both youthful and initiated into the great suffering and love of the world. There's a world-weariness that colors songs with a melancholy haze, a filter of deep blue tones. In "Roll the Dice," he asks, "Is it really worth it to be worth anything?" It's the ephemerality of all things that LeBlanc is tracking.
But within the sense of time's inevitable passage, its erasure and constant resetting, there's also an attunement to the eternal. "Paradise," the song that closes the album, is a reflection on the love of a lifetime--after the loss of a soulmate. "Paradise is a lonely place/ in the here and now," muses the partner who remains, who buries his love in her "long white wedding gown...like you asked me too." Love doesn't end with death, and the narrator fantasizes about reuniting with his beloved "in another life where tomorrow's never found." It's appropriate for me that an album that opens with reflection on youthful blunders--and their important place in shaping the contours of a life--closes with ruminations on the unknown path ahead, which the narrator sets out upon with all the clarity of a man who has lived fully and is ready to face the future without fear.
I spoke with LeBlanc about the album and his upcoming set at Asheville's Mothlight. His quiet, thoughtful words enriched my experience of the record and my excitement for this show.
Asheville Grit (AG): You're a songwriter and a poet. I'm always interested to know how you decide something will become a song versus a poem. What does that process look like for you?