Singer-songwriter’s Dylan LeBlanc’s “Cautionary Tale” is the story of a man rebuilding his life from its charred ashes through the age-old remedy of song. It’s a nice story, though one that we’ve heard before.
LeBlanc’s tale starts in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in high school, where he first began writing songs and playing in bands. After a stint in a handful of bands, he started focusing on his own material, recording in secret midnight sessions at legendary FAME Studios where friend Ben Tanner, who plays bass in Alabama Shakes, was an engineer.
He was signed to UK’s Rough Trade Records at the ripe age of 19 and released two albums, 2010’s “Pauper’s Field” and 2012’s “Cast The Same Old Shadow” and skyrocketed from serving at Applebee’s to touring the world and opening for acts such as The Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, The Civil Wars and The Alabama Shakes.
The pressure of his new life drove him into a fractured existence of booze, exhaustion and self-doubt and ultimately led him to return to Muscle Shoals to heal his wounds. “Cautionary Tale” is the 23 year-old’s record of these days and the 10 songs on the album certainly read like a man who has walked through some fires. With titles such as “Balance or Fall,” I’m Moving On” and “Beyond The Veil,” LeBlanc is obviously trying to reckon with the past and come to terms with what led him down his destructive path. “When I was a young man I played the hand they dealt/ While I tried to bury all the ways it felt” he sings wistfully on “Man Like Me.”
But despite its heavy subject matter, “Cautionary Tale” is an easy listen. LeBlanc’s songs all have a pretty air about them, like a white lace dress catching some of the summer breeze, with his soft, attentive voice usually being the highlight. “Easy Way Out” has the acoustic flow of a Neil Young song with a bit of varnish on it and “Balance or Fall” is a nice little folk mediation.
The songs that stand out are the ones in which LeBlanc added a little more personality and groove. He composed all of the string arrangements on the album and they add a smoky vulnerability on the soulful “Cautionary Tale,” along with some organ and pedal steel embellishments. “Look How Far We’ve Come” shuffles along like another inebriated trip back home from the bar, with the stability of the piano and strings keeping the song on its feet and moving.
For how well done the album is, it doesn’t feel like it has a lot of weight to it. His songs have a generic quality to them that don’t speak to his specific situation. Lyrics like “When we were young, wild and free/ Well I’ll still roll the dice on you if you roll the dice on me/ You don’t have to fold on me” on “Roll The Dice” are so cliched and could have been written by anybody who has ever had an ounce of heartbreak and heard at least one country ballad. Furthermore, with the constant harping on his past and the tentative way he goes about telling it, you wonder if LeBlanc is still living his own cautionary tale. It is as if he is taking the first steps out of his house in years and could run back inside and lock the doors with the rustling of some leaves on the trees.
“Cautionary Tale” is a fine release but one that doesn’t distinguish itself from the pack. Hopefully, LeBlanc has some room to grow and push himself next time around.
- Dylan LeBlanc’s
Release: Jan. 15, 2016
Notable Tracks: “Cautionary Tale,” Look How Far We’ve Come”