If what passes for country music these days gives you a headache, Brennen Leigh has the remedy.” So wrote the Austin Chronicle in a review of the talented singer-songwriter’s latest album The Box. She mixes the traditional sounds of country and bluegrass effortlessly and with deep admiration, yet manages to remain contemporary with subject matter that is both fascinating and universal.
Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Leigh lived in Moorhead, Minnesota where she began performing with her brother Seth Hulbert. In 2002, she decided to give Austin a try. A dependable mandolin player with a clear, voice, Leigh won over such influential Texas country artists as Dale Watson, who asked her to join him on stage, and Jesse Dayton, who she met at a festival in France. They, in turn, introduced her to a broad range of country music fans and like-minded musicians.
2004 was a banner year for the then fledgling singer-songwriter. She began a Tuesday night residency at Austin’s Evangeline Cafe, one that continues to this day. She also released Too Thin To Plow, a satisfying display of her firm grasp on Americana that won her some opening dates with Ralph Stanley.
Holdin’ Our Own, a collection of duets with Dayton, followed in 2007. While drawing rave reviews for its gilded harmonies reminiscent of country royalty like George & Tammy, Johnny & June, and Conway & Loretta, it was notable for the fact that Leigh and Dayton co-wrote half of the album’s tunes. It was also during ‘07 that Leigh was honored to join personal hero Charlie Louvin’s band on mandolin.
Her many associations brought further recognition, which grew into time spent collaborating with noted Nashville songwriter John Scott Sherrill. Americana champion Jim Lauderdale was one of the special guests on The Box. The 2010 release also featured the talents of Sunny Sweeney who reciprocated, by including the song “Amy,” a co-write with Leigh, on her 2011 disc Concrete.
In the long standing Austin tradition of established artists encouraging new local musicians, Leigh has most recently lent her mandolin and acoustic guitar talents to the Carper Family, an all woman trio and kindred spirits with a very traditional, yet inspired sound.
Today Leigh is concentrating on a sound closer to bluegrass. She’s taking her love of the honest, haunting sounds of the Louvin Brothers to another level by mixing in unconventional, lifelong literary influences like W.B. Yeats and Shakespeare. She’s also expanded her audience to Europe, especially in Norway where she’s performed 8 times since 2005.
In the multifaceted Austin music scene, Brennen Leigh stands apart with talent that is distinctive and a sound that is uncommonly satisfying.