Storytelling in country music sometimes feels like a lost art but that seems to only be what one hears on modern country radio as the artists existing outside of that narrow framework are able to still find a way to make their art and one of those artists is singer/songwriter James LeBlanc. Known as the songwriter behind hits like “Learning How To Bend” by Gary Allan, “Relentless” by Jason Aldean and “Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde” from Travis Tritt, LeBlanc returns after a 10 year absence with this record, Nature Of The Beast.
The album, which was produced by LeBlanc and Jimmy Tutt, Features a dozen tracks, all but two written or co-written by LeBlanc (“Answers” was written by James’ son Dylan and “Beans” is from icon Shel Silverstein).The opener, the title track, finds James stelling a story of a man who constantly battling with genetics and his own personal demons. Co-written with Travis Meadows and Matt Warren, the song recalls the kind of deep, emotional tracks found on Meadows own Killing Uncle Buzzy from a few years back. “My Middle Name” (a co write with Leslie Satcher and Brad Crisler) finds LeBlanc telling a story of a man who may find relationships but they’re gonna end up bad. It’s a lyrical partner to “Nature Of The Beast” but don’t let the fact that these songs tell those stories fool you, this isn’t 100% downbeat material. It’s just introspective and honest.
“I Ain’t East To Love,” a duet with co-writer Angela Hacker, finds a couple who sticks together even through thick and thin and through all of their quirks. This, friends, is an honest to God country duet with soaring choruses and a heavy dose of steel guitars backing up their powerful performance together. Speaking of steel guitar, “Nothin’ But Smoke” features of a heavy dose of it in a mature tale of lonesome heartbreak that is good as anything found on records from the like of Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton or any numerous classic George Strait songs. country rocker “Answers” feels like an unearthed Waylon classic while “Yankee Bank” tells a civil war tale of revenge whereas closer “Beans” - the aforementioned Shel Silverstein track, is as great reminder that no matter what happens in life and where it takes us (to fame and fortune) we remain the same kind of people we were to start with.
Throughout the course of Nature Of The Beast, James LeBlanc showcases that storytelling still has a place in country music and that if you look for it, you will find fantastic projects to add to your music collection (digital or otherwise). There’s not a finer record released in 2017 than James LeBlanc's Nature Of The Beast.