Album Review – Ned LeDoux’s “Buckskin”

You’ve gotta love Ned LeDoux. Being the son or daughter, or a second or third generation performer in country music has got to be such a head trip for these guys and gals. They want to honor their family’s name, but they also want to make a name for themselves. They’re torn between being their own person, and often the person the listening public wants them to be. Their name is their biggest burden, and their greatest asset all at the same time.

But instead of Ned LeDoux trying to fight the idea that he’s a protégé of his famous father—rodeo champion and country performer Chris LeDoux—he’s embraced that role, and found his home in the style his father pioneered, and that Ned helped perform as the drummer in his father’s Western Underground band once he was old enough. Let’s just call the style that has sprung from the LeDoux family legacy “rodeo country.”

These days, you can consider rodeo country almost like it’s own subgenre. It’s a strong mix of traditional country, with a healthy infusion of 80’s and 90’s rock styles, with a little cowboy poetry mixed in. It’s been around for years on the rodeo circuit, embraced by performers such as Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson who’ve found great success with it from performing this version of country music to packed rodeo venues all around the country after the bulls and horses have cleared the floor, and the nightly entertainment takes the stage erected in-the-round.

That’s the vibe you get from Ned LeDoux’s Buckskin. It’s country with a rock edge, at times completely country, with some spoken word poetry mixed in as well. And with seven of the songs solely or co-written by LeDoux, his own voice is firmly stamped on this record. He also records his father’s “He Rides The Wild Horses” to pay homage to pops.

Award-winning guitar player and producer Mac McAnally has been working with Ned LeDoux from the beginning. But where Ned’s first LP Sagebrush for 2017 had some strange contemporary inflections and a collaboration with Chase Rice (probably trying to ensconce Ned into the mainstream narrative), Buckskin feels like where Ned LeDoux is supposed to be—not afraid to bring some bold rock ‘n roll energy to traditional country and cowboy themes to excite big audiences, but also understanding that when it comes to cowboys and rodeos, country music is still the king.

This album has some great straight ahead country songs on it like “Rodeo Dreams,” “Damn Good Cowboy,” and even an authentic Western Swing number, “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” Yes, there’s not a whole lot of diversity in the subject matter, but these are the songs you expect with the LeDoux name. “Upside of the Ground” and “Buckskin” feature some of the spoken word verses that are also indicative of the rodeo country style.

But with a guitar player manning the control board in Mac McAnally, and the LeDoux legacy being one of unabashedly adding loud guitar into the mix, this more rock side of rodeo country music is also represented on the album and in its big opening single “The Mountain,” and maybe to the chagrin of some of country music’s more purist fans. Overall though, Buckskin feels like the most balanced, perhaps the most country, and generally the most LeDoux of Ned’s three album output so far.

Chris LeDoux died at the relatively young age of 56. He was a hero to many, including some who never got to see him when he was alive. Ned LeDoux isn’t walking around with a chip on his shoulder about who his dad was, nor is he acting like he’s got a cross to bear because of it. He’s just doing country music the LeDoux way, which is writing your own songs about the cowboy way of life, releasing them independently, and giving folks a good time after the steers have been rode, and the belt buckles handed out.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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