Dylan LeBlanc’s last album, Cautionary Tale, presented the Muscle Shoals singer-songwriter in fine form – his voice soft and supple, the arrangements elegant and bright. Renegade finds him in slightly more groovy, more raucous mode, clearly emboldened by the production of Grammy Award magnet Dave Cobb (Chris Isaak, Sturgill Simpson, Rival Sons), and the support of his longtime band, The Pollies.
The title track plays out like classic Bryan Adams or (whisper it) Ryan Adams. There’s that classic ache, a melancholia sweeping over an American-as-apple-pie road anthem. The riffing, which largely took a backseat on Cautionary Tale, is turned up to 11 here.
Bang Bang Bang makes use of Dave Cobb’s experience with Rival Sons, as the guitars are crisp, punchy and direct. Cobb has, with his two-take production style, revolutionised the way LeBlanc uses riffs as the wind in his songs’ sails. Damned is another excellent slice of highway Crazy Horse rawk, with roaring guitars and LeBlanc’s Neil Young tones on full display. It’s undoubtedly one of the highlights of the set.
Sand and Stone sounds, well, stoned. It has a sluggish, rolling rhythm, and a crisp finger-picked guitar hook. Lone Rider fills a widescreen vista with hazy morning fields and throat-burning booze, cigarettes and stonewashed denim. It’s a beautiful track.
Honor Among Thieves is a humid, swampy ballad that’s reminiscent of both Bruce Springsteen’s broken-heart Americana and Gold Rush Neil Young swooners. Magenta evokes Ryan Adams once again, only this time it’s his more country-inflected debut record.
At only 10 songs long, Renegade has no time to overstay its welcome, but it also lacks a couple of big songs that would have tipped it from ‘reasonably good’ to ‘excellent’. Perhaps this is due to the speedy recording schedule (10 songs in 10 days), or the need to inject a sense of urgency into his sound at the expense of craft.
LeBlanc has been at this long enough now that if you haven’t heard of him, you probably never would. He’s never been close to the summit of his chosen style of music, but he also seems unfazed by his lack of worldwide stardom. In a parallel universe, LeBlanc was the one to join The Grateful Dead, not John Mayer. In another parallel universe, LeBlanc was anointed by Neil Young as his successor and true heir. And Renegade is lots of fun, even if it’sa few tracks short of its true potential.