They tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but the album art for Leon III's self-titled debut is one of those rare instances where the concrete image encapsulates the abstract sounds of the music. Leon III is the latest project by former Wrinkle Neck Mules members Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent, and it's a breezy look through country's past and future, held down by heavy melodies and equally weighty questions about modern life. The lead-off track, "Maybe I'm Immune?" wonders aloud why the narrator seems to have it so good in spite of everything else that's happening in "this poisonous time." It's a conflicted song, and that anguish weaves its way throughout the album.
Leon III is ultimately about breaking free from ourselves. The vaguely psychedelic nature of the music is more set dressing and less novelty. It's not there because it's the Thing To Do -- instead, the freeflowing nature of the music seems to challenge us into introspection even as it asks us to question our own sense of boundaries. Country music is nothing if not an economical genre -- three chords, the truth, three verses, chorus, bridge. Leon III shows us that it's possible -- musically and otherwise -- to live within those constraints while pushing them out further than you might have thought you could. But I don't want you to think this is a somber album -- "Alberta" is a rocker if ever there was any. But Leon III suggests that however far you push, you're destined to fail -- at least that's what the reprise of "From These Heights" suggests at the end of the album. I beg to differ, but maybe I'll be wrong in the end.
Leon III -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Cornelius Chapel Records
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