Album Review – Brennen Leigh’s “Obsessed With The West”

If music is a language, and genres are its dialects, Brennen Leigh is like a Rosetta Stone of country music’s most arcane and endangered tongues. There’s no bean counting going on behind-the-scenes with this one; no strategic calculations of how certain moves will affect a career track and bank account in the long term. There’s just a pure love of the most original forms of country music, and a sincere desire to keep the dying embers of these art forms stoked, even if it means personal sacrifice to make it happen.

This most recently has led Brennen Leigh to dive head first into one of the hardest, and most threatened forms of country music. Originally from the upper Midwest, Brennen Leigh came up in Austin, TX, which is very much in the heart of where Western Swing once reigned supreme—where “Bob Wills is Still the King” as Waylon once said. But it was moving away to Nashville that allowed Leigh to feel a yearning and fondness for this particular expression of country music to the point where she wanted to cut a whole record of the stuff.

And if one wants to release a definitive work of Western Swing music, getting the preeminent purveyors of this subgenre in the modern era to back you up—that being Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel—seems like a pretty smart plan. The result is the 12 songs of Obsessed With The West, which will steer your mindset straight to the 1940s with its savory Cindy Walker-style songs, spirited singing, and savvy instrumentation.

What makes Obsessed With The West not just another Western Swing record is how Brennen Leigh is able to emphasize the playfulness that this approach to country music allows through its bouncy rhythm, and the boundless possibilities of chords and lyricism. On this album, Brennen Leigh puts this into service in large measure by singing about ungrateful and hapless men, but you won’t be sobbing along as much as simply entertained. Whether purposeful or accidental, Obsessed With The West makes for a great breakup record.

Song titles like “If I Treated You Like You Treated Me,” “I Don’t Want Someone Who Don’t Want Me,” and “Tell Him I’m Dead” really say it all. Brennen Leigh is not here for your romantic apathy, and neither are Emily Gimble and Katie Shore who join Brennen on these laments. Along that same line is the excellent song “Same Dream,” which like some of the songs on the album, isn’t straight Western Swing, but still resides within the same era, making for a seamless time setting for this album irrespective of specific style, aided in part by the great steel playing of Chris Scruggs.

But Obsessed With The West isn’t just about love lost. Overall, it’s a love letter to Western Swing, with those limb tingling Texas Swing numbers like “In Texas With A Band,” and what may be the most enjoyable track on the record, the feisty “Comin’ In Hot.” And you can’t have Western Swing without the Western, so Brennen includes a cowboy number in “Riding Off Onto Sunset Boulevard,” and finishes the work with a song of summer and innocence called “Cottonwood Fuzz.”

An album like Obsessed With The West is not going to pique the interest of the hipster set, or make for a good transitional work for mainstream country fans. It’s too delightfully arcane and fey for that, instead seeking out the ears of those old souls who feel lost in all the noise of today who are looking for a portal back to a simpler time of painted shutters, Pyrex cookware, and music played by actual humans who devoted their lives to perfecting it.

Brennen Leigh has written songs for the likes of Lee Ann Womack and Sunny Sweeny, and been covered by Rodney Crowell and Charley Crockett. She probably could have gone in more bankable and commercial directions in her career. But keeping her integrity and following her heart has resulted in rewards more lucrative than money, and prestige more important than widespread popularity. Obsessed With The West adds to Brennen Leigh’s legacy as a revivalist, and another worthy selection to her catalog, and the collaborative catalog of Asleep At The Wheel.

8/10

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