Dylan LeBlanc made the point midway through his spectacular set this evening that he probably wouldn’t be allowed to play the more provincial towns and cities if he was promoting an album. It is to the credit of organisations like Roman Candle Promotions in Chester therefore that they have recognised a gap in the market and worked hard to host quality live events in places that tours would normally bypass. Recent events at St. Mary’s Creative Space include high-profile artists such as Jesca Hoop and Anna Burch and for the privileged few in attendance tonight, they can look back on yet another concert of consummate skill and passion, performed in an intimate and evocative venue that enhances the experience to an even higher plane.
Contributing to this wonderful evening is New Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins in the support slot. Since 2007 her records have veered wildly across a range of styles, although much of the focus tonight is on latest record Goodnight Rhonda Lee. The album bears the qualities of a timeless soul classic but her opening two tracks are fragile solo efforts before she’s joined by Dylan LeBlanc’s band The Pollies, adding the complex textures which are inherent on the record. The cool ‘Sleepwalking’ is a joyful case in point. She turns on a dime though, introducing songs written with Chris Isaak and members of The Bad Seeds and it is during these moments when the conventional soul elements morph into a darker, Lynchian milieu inspired by failed relationships and questionable personal decisions that provide an evocative background to this wonderful performance.
Dylan LeBlanc’s most recent record is 2016’s Cautionary Tales. It’s a mostly gentle collection of country folk songs that sparkle with a hint of sunshine and a Laurel Canyon vibe, enhanced by LeBlanc’s quietly intense vocals which have an air of Neil Young about them. The polished catalogue on record is deceptive however; this evening presents a version of Dylan LeBlanc that the uninitiated may not have been expecting. There’s a darker, rugged intensity to proceedings and this is complimented by several blackly humorous interludes in-between songs: performing his retrospective material in a church has clearly tickled the Muscle Shoals man! Once again, we have The Pollies to thank for adding an extra dimension to proceedings musically and we’re treated to several thrillingly extended jams and guitar duels between LeBlanc and his band as the evening progresses, ensuring that the largely low-key, acoustic approach on record is enhanced to more thrillingly dynamic levels. Tracks like ‘Roll the Dice’ are expertly performed and LeBlanc’s vocals are a dream, but it is on songs like ‘Beyond the Veil’ when we seem to delve deeper into his psyche where the evening really comes alive; what we’re party too is a more unpredictable and complex version of this Alabama native’s personality and there is thrilling evidence of his flair as a guitarist during these moments too.
The setlist is perfectly balanced therefore. Tracks like the ephemeral ‘Low’ focus on the more tender, individual elements of debut album Pauper’s Field, but these are tempered by songs like ‘Born Again’, which benefit from the fuller, collaborative approach and this seems to unleash a bit of the animal within LeBlanc and he breaks free from the restrictions of the more melodic acoustic numbers to really rip it up with his buddies.
LeBlanc jokingly mentions how unlikely it would be to ever play in Chester again but if this was the case it would be a crying shame. As long as we have people like Roman Candle Promotions working hard to attract artists like Dylan LeBlanc to our smaller, less hip areas of the country, real music fans will be happy.