Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It won’t take long after pressing play on singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc’s first album in three years to realize something has changed. The once low-key, often atmospheric and tender style LeBlanc had perfected over the course of three previous releases gets a shot of adrenaline. The opening electric guitar riff explodes into a full-fledged Tom Petty-styled strum rocker, complete with enhanced reverb and a driving, insistently propulsive rhythm. The tune’s (and album’s) “Renegade” name, a howling six-string solo along with a surprise “f” bomb, pushes the boundaries of what most existing fans might expect. Welcome to LeBlanc’s finest hour.
While not everything jumps out with the same force, ballads such as the lovely “Lone Rider” and “Magenta,” about forgotten people reaching out to a higher spirit for help (“Oh dear God/ are you ever going to find us/ we’re in pieces”), reverberate with a fuller dynamic approach. LeBlanc says he felt himself going in a more intense direction, but producer Dave Cobb also helped create the audio bedrock which makes these still introspective songs so sonically rich.
LeBlanc’s sweet, gentle high-pitched tenor voice would seem to be at odds with the more rocking style of “Bang Bang Bang” (not surprisingly about gun violence) and the chiming guitar-driven “Damned” (where the singer questions organized religion), but the combination works beautifully. The tougher edge brings heft to the vocals and his singing tamps down the music’s aggressive qualities. Still, it’s the string quartet-enhanced “Honor Among Thieves” that may be the set’s most riveting moment. The classical element resonates like Paul Buckmaster’s iconic orchestrations with Elton John as LeBlanc reflects on the country’s immigration history with a subtle and poetic touch.
Those unfamiliar with the artist can start here. But longtime fans should be prepared for a freshly energized Dylan LeBlanc, one who has found new vitality reflected in the lyrics “Dying to be born again.”