Austin singer-songwriter Brennen Leigh broke country hard on an initially smallish, talkative crowd at Under the Volcano last night. Opening with "Paint Myself Blue" as a teaser/warmup, she immediately jumped straight into "I Only Drink On Special Occasions" and the crowd was hers. It's one of those songs you don't so much sing as belt out, and Leigh belted it out of the park.
"That's a song about substance abuse, the first of many tonight," she said.
By the third song, "Backsliding Blues," Leigh was tromping through Miranda Lambert girl-with-an-attitude territory. "Sleeping With the Devil," recently recorded by Lee Ann Womack, gave us an example of just how deep Leigh's material runs as a writer. By the time she'd finished it, we had settled in, sure that we were in for one of those nights music critics remember long after the last note fades.
"If I Ever Get Married Again," another Leigh composition, is one of those half funny/half tragic Tammy Wynette/Loretta Lynn tearjerkers that require every simple word to be in exactly the right place. Leigh's got songwriter chops aplenty, and nothing screamed it quite like what is our favorite Leigh song, "Are You Still Taking Them Pills," a cowrite with guitarist/boyfriend Noel McKay.
Leigh ended the night with a stellar cover of the old Bill Monroe bluegrass classic "I'm Workin' On a Building" which totally quieted the restless crowd at last.
We've been watching Leigh for some time now, ever since she cut that album of duets with Jesse Dayton, and we've got to say she looks like the next big deal on the female side of country music. She's got the songs, she's got the voice, and, to her credit, she can pick with just about anyone. It's going to be a tough package for Nashville to continue to overlook.
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Personal Bias: Vocally, Leigh reminds us of Lee Ann Womack, the best pure country singer in Nashville.
The Crowd: Began loud and boisterous, but Leigh eventually quieted them down with the power of her performance.
Overheard in the Crowd: Man, she's tall.
Random Notebook Dump: Why do Austin bands (other than Shinyribs) who play the Volcano always need a break for a two-hour gig whereas the Houston bands just power through it? Note to Austin bands: we didn't come to hear you tell us about your songs or make jokes, we came to hear you play. So build some momentum during your sets: play.