Listening to Bernie Leadon, one wonders how he ever fit in with the glitz and glamour and Hollywood posing of the Eagles. Mirror, Leadon's first album in 26 years, is damned smart, straight-ahead material that bears more resemblance to another notable "looking back at 50" album, Rodney Crowell's Fate's Right Hand, than to any of the "Hotel California" smarty-pants arena rock of the Eagles.
Razor in hand, Leadon looks in his mirror and sees what most of us probably see: the lines and furrows that make us need to fathom motives and actions, to consider roads not taken, chances missed, mistakes along the path. While Leadon ends the record with "God Ain't Through with Me Yet," there's little in his material to suggest redemption is his goal. It's just that life's lessons make for some very good songs. Tracks like "Sears and Roebuck Catalog," "What Do I Own," "Rich Life" and the wistful "Center of the Universe" show a strong concern for materialism and its evil twin, egotism.
But all the heavy philosophical stuff aside, what really sets Leadon apart -- and always has -- is his playing and sense of arrangement. Acoustic or electric, Leadon can make six strings ring with an authority, imagination and clarity only a handful of pickers possess. Before he finishes the first Telecaster fill in "Vile and Profane Man," it's obvious why Leadon deserves his exalted reputation as a picker for hire. And when he and Emmylou Harris sing, "I play in a gypsy band / and I don't have a backup plan," one grasps the full flowering of Leadon's genius for potent Americana lyrics. No, God ain't done with this musical gypsy yet. Too bad he doesn't get in the studio -- or come around here -- more often.
And Don Henley still must die.