Mac Leaphart – Music City Joke
Mac Leaphart is new to me and one of the most delightful discoveries I’ve recently had. The recruitment of Brad Jones (Hayes Carll, Chuck Prophet, Over The Rhine amongst many) as producer is inspired and Leaphart’s accompanying notes, with the album, talk of Jones being a demanding task master who extracted the best out of him. Leaphart has constructed 10 superb stories, some allegories, with exceptional americana country tunes. He’s also the possessor of winsome tubes that reminded me of Boo Ray or Ryan Bingham.
‘She got knocked up and kept on drinking / Smoked a half a pack a day / She didn’t want that baby / But, she had him anyway’ are the first words you’ll hear on “El Paso Kid”, about a child who didn’t have an auspicious start in life but was determined to beat adversity. This story is played out to a traditional country tune with Will Kimbrough playing acoustic guitar and Fats Kaplin weaving sonorous delight on the fiddle. Kaplin has played with a lot of country and americana royalty including John Prine. That connection is pertinent as Leaphart’s lyrics and sound are redolent of this master’s work.
“The Same Thing” is about unrequited love. Over a picked acoustic guitar, and Kaplin now on pedal steel, Leaphart ruefully observes her at a distance: she’s happy, and in the company of another. The tender melody is quite the heart breaker. However humour permeates the album whether wry, deprecating or off beat. Irony is evident on “Blame on the Bottle” where a walking bass drives this country stomp, with Kimbrough adding electric guitar licks. In the song an old hell raiser friend has now discovered the Lord and been convinced of the evils of alcohol to the extent that Coca Cola is his tipple. Leaphart points out that the whiskey didn’t pour itself in the first place! Off beat is “Ballad of Bob Yamaha or A Simple Plea in C Major” where he assumes the persona of a Japanese acoustic guitar that longs to be played properly. (Worryingly I have a Yamaha acoustic guitar that no doubt feels the same.)
“That Train” barrels along with a Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks era feel with fiddle and shuffling rhythm doing the heavy lifting. Leaphart describes the arrangement as ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ with a full band including mandolin and harmonica. “Every Day” is a paean to his wife who he describes as the ‘breadwinner for our family’; whilst he pursues his art she’s keeping food on the table, not a piece of support he’s overlooked.
This is a complete gem; to think he had to crowd fund the project with no record label support is a surprise. Over a decade he’s paid his dues and this, his fourth album, just goes to show that life isn’t fair. He deserves a large commercial break with this.