DYLAN LEBLANC KNOWS THAT SECOND CHANCES RARELY COME.BUT JUST AS RARE ARE VOICES LIKE HIS.
Overwhelmed by the speed with which his talent transformed him from a waiter at Applebee's to the "new Neil Young" in just a few months, he turned down an unexpected major label contract after releasing two critically acclaimed albums. He fell into a fog of alcohol and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at only 23, Dylan returned to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to write a new life for himself.
Between moments of clarity and a few familiar falls, he also wrote a new album, "Cautionary Tale" - a collection of shimmering, compelling songs with the same haunting vocals that caught the attention of Lucinda Williams and Bruce Springsteen, but now with a sharpened edge, shaped by accelerated maturity.
"THIS ALBUM IS ABOUT ME GETTING HONEST WITH MYSELF," SAYS DYLAN. "I HAD TO LET GO OF THE GUILT OF THE PAST AND FIND A NEW TRUTH IN MYSELF. THIS TIME I FELT I HAD SOMETHING REAL TO SAY."
To help him do that, he sought out his longtime friend Ben Tanner, the same man who secretly recorded Dylan's first songs while he worked nights at the famed FAME Studios. (He also introduced the 16-year-old Dylan to Wilco, George Harrison and Ryan Adams with the help of an external hard drive). While on tour with the Alabama Shakes, Ben went back to producing recordings for the label he had founded with another friend of Dylan's, Grammy Award-winning musician John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars. Both produced and performed on "Cautionary Tale."
"They kept me from burying my words," Dylan says. "Doubt is often my first instinct, and I try to layer things with more elements to hide my voice, but I decided to trust them. I once heard Merle Haggard say that the singer is secondary to the song, and they both helped me build a strong foundation for the emotions I was feeling."
The stripped-down aesthetic that John Paul and Ben have made their trademark puts Dylan's voice in a light bright enough to reveal the patina that recent years have left behind.
"I'VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME WRITING ABOUT PROGRAMMING AND CONDITIONING AND THE IDEA OF EGO," SAYS DYLAN. "I NO LONGER WANT TO ANSWER TO MY CIRCUMSTANCES OR THE PAST TO EXPLAIN WHY I AM THE WAY I AM. A LOT OF MY SONGS LIKE 'CAUTIONARY TALE' AND 'LOOK HOW FAR WE'VE COME' ARE ABOUT BREAKING OUT OF A VICIOUS CIRCLE. I WONDERED IF I COULD FIND MY SOLUTIONS WITHIN MYSELF - IF I COULD BELIEVE IN SOMETHING BEYOND THE PRESENT."
If Dylan was wandering through a graveyard with his first album, "Paupers Field" ("Songs are like tombstones to me," he told The Guardian), "Cautionary Tale" is an abandoned desert town. He reflects on what once was, and whether anything could be again. Sometimes he wonders if the signs of life he sees on the horizon are real or just a mirage. Phantasmagorical, trilling voices in the background rise to join his own and fade into the ether; ghostly guitar riffs echo in the void around him.
Finding the right arrangement and the right words was a more deliberate effort for Dylan this time. After feeling lost in the "frenzy" of recording his first two albums, he relied on Ben and John Paul to gather the pieces of his vision.
"I've definitely become more disciplined. I don't rely on things like inspiration anymore," Dylan says. "I've learned so much by putting songs together with John Paul. With everything he does, it's always well thought out and placed in the right spot. I'm an improvisational person by nature, but now I see how that can be more limiting than planning your next move."
This newfound discipline is showing. Dylan, who doesn't usually write down parts, methodically notated the impressive string sections with violinist Kimi Samson and cellist Caleb Elliot. To form the polished rhythm section he wanted for songs like "The Easy Way Out" and "Beyond the Veil," he paired drummer Jeremy Gibson with Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell ("I wanted it to feel like a Bill Withers or Al Green recording - soulful, but tight.")
While Dylan readily admits he wasn't ready to be on the stages he played on early in his career, there's no doubt he is now. With a refocused compass, he's back on the road, opening sold-out shows for British singer-songwriter George Ezra, another artist lauded for a wise voice beyond his years.
Dylan will continue to support George through September 2015, including a show at Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium. Next, he will launch his solo tour, with performances in the South, Midwest and New England.
"AFTER EVERYTHING I'VE BEEN THROUGH, I STILL LOVE PUTTING OUT RECORDS AND SINGING TO PEOPLE, NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL THE CROWD," SAYS DYLAN. "THAT'S THE ONLY THING I WANT TO DO, AND NOW I CAN CONTINUE TO DO IT AS A MORE WELL-ROUNDED PERSON. I THINK I'M GIFTED.... OR WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT TO SAY ABOUT IT."This content has been machine translated.
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