We often like to say when listening to a great classic country song released in the modern day, “If it had been recorded back in the 60s or 70s, it would have been a #1 hit.” When it comes to Brennen Leigh’s new album Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet, it would be like a Greatest Hits compilation of #1’s from a Golden Era country star if it was released 50 years ago. One song after another dazzles you with it’s classic country authenticity that speaks to the heart so much better than the country genre’s more modern modes.
In Brennen’s 2020 album Prairie Love Letter, she paid homage to her home in the Upper Midwest. With 2022’s Obsessed With The West, she toasted Western Swing and the time she spent in Texas earlier in her career. With this new album, Leigh centers her attention on the very kernel of what country music is supposed to be that’s informed by her recent era in Nashville, and serves it up with a honky tonk kick. If Brennen Leigh wants to honky tonk, you better damn well let her.
Though it all fits very firmly within the classic country music bucket, Brennen Leigh illustrates just how much variety truly exists even in elemental country music. You have classic heartbreak songs like “Somebody’s Drinking About You,” more Countrypolitan-sounding songs like “Every Time I Do” with it’s backing chorus. You even have a bona fide country trucker song in “Carole with an E.” If you needed an encyclopedic illustration of what someone means when they say “country music,” this album would be a good place to start.
The album might reach its peak with the folk country-styled cheating song “Mississippi Rendezvous,” co-written with Mary Bragg. When Brennen Leigh hits the high note heading into the chorus, it just about stops your heart. It underscores that many can mimic old sounding country songs. But to do something that will withstand the test of time just like those old songs did, you need the talent and acuity that Brennen Leigh brings to the table, informed by both a deep study and a deep passion for this music.
To make a great album, it takes great songs and a great artist. But it also takes a team of great people to help put it all together. That is what Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet has. It was produced by Chris Scruggs, and Brennen solicits co-writers such as Silas Lowe, Tessy Lou Williams, Noel McKay, Erin Enderlin, and the aforementioned Mary Bragg to tighten up and perfect her original songs. Notable musicians on the album include Marty Stuart on mandolin, Aaron Till on fiddle, and Rodney Crowell on backing vocals.
Such care went into this record from all involved, and you can tell this in the finished product. Each element, from the tone of the guitar and instrument selection, to the turn of phrase in the verses, to the backup singing, it’s all informed from the time when country music arguably hit its peak of emotional resonance and creativity. Just like searching for wisdom, sometimes you’re better served going back in time as opposed to forward to find what you seek.
For years it felt like Brennen Leigh was sliding scandalously under the radar because she was more of a performing artist than a recording artist, with any studio projects from Brennen being few and far between. Whatever has gotten into her, she’s entered a new prolific phase in her career, and we’re all here for it. Brennen has been a gem of classic country for years, and hopefully Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet continues to help expose that to listeners around the globe.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)
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