Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CD Review: Leeann Atherton – Heart Traveled Road

Leeann Atherton is in fine form on this 2009 release produced by her long-time collaborator Rich Brotherton. This album showcases Leeann’s voice and songwriting, and covers a vast musical landscape from Acoustic Blues to Blues Rock, Country Rock, Gospel, a little Jazz, and Folk. If you’ve heard Leeann, particularly in her live shows, you know that she projects the image of a very strong woman who knows her own mind. That comes through in this collection of songs, but there is also the counterpoint of at least playing the more traditional female role, or perhaps, more accurately, playing off that stereotype. Leeann has strong Southern roots, having grown up in South Carolina, spent time in Nashville, and about 25 years in Austin.

Leeann’s voice is a powerful instrument. I saw her perform recently and she really sunk her teeth into Janis’ Piece of My Heart. But she can also sing a sweet and soulful ballad and there are moments of tender vulnerability, such as in I Believe where she sings: “What I’m trying to say/If I’m still not clear/My heart is on the table/I’m standing naked here.” The standout tracks are Looking for a Rainbow, a gospel tune about keeping your focus through the storms of life, Change of Heart a blues song about the battle of the sexes with a nice twist, and Soul Song, a perfect little folk-infused love song marked by beautiful interplay between the finger-picked guitar and the violin.

Remember Me is a little old-time Jazz shuffle, that lets the mind wander back to old movies and is also a very sly brush off song. Kiss is solid Country rock and starts off with a bang: “Got me dizzy, got me spinnin’, /got me wantin’ it again/ your kiss. /I’m drunk on the moon, /don’t you leave me so soon, /not like this.” There are quite a few breakup or brush off songs in the set and the men in these stories seem to come out on the short end more often than not. Not sure if that is fresh autobiography or just good songwriting.

Rich Brotherton’s production, arranging, and playing (acoustic and electric guitar, bass, mandolin, mandola, cittern, and harmonium) is impeccable throughout. Rich has played with and produced records for a who’s who of Austin and Texas songwriters and singers over the last two decades. He’s worked with Robert Earl Keen, Eliza Gilkyson and many others. He even played Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar and Bass on a track of mine back in 1990. And Leeann helped me out with backing vocals on a couple of tunes in 1992. So perhaps I’m biased, but I think this is a very good record that will find a place in your heart.

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