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Dylan LeBlanc

Cast the Same Old Shadow

(Rough Trade; US: 21 Aug 2012; UK: 20 Aug 2012)

A wussy voice

Let’s be blunt. Dylan LeBlanc has a wussy voice. I do not mean that in a sexual way. I mean that it sounds as if he could not blow up a balloon without being winded, or even fill a paper bag with air and pop it. He sings slowly and softly. LeBlanc hushes for emphasis much more than he gets loud to make a point. That’s the most striking aspect of Cast the Same Old Shadow: not the songs or the instrumentation, but LeBlanc’s muted lead singing.


Whether one enjoys LeBlanc’s new release largely depends on how one feels about his voice. The songs themselves are appropriately atmospheric with moody sonics and words about people and places from his personal or imagined past. The instrumentation, especially the strings, is lush, but comprised of basic elements in manner. The notes and chords are performed one at a time for full effect, But LeBlanc’s sings over top of them to bind it all together.


More descriptively, the Louisiana native’s music has a Southern Gothic feel. The sound is the aural equivalent of Spanish Moss hanging from a cypress tree or the way the light looks through the fog in a swamp—or maybe a bit more industrial, like where the factory dumps its excesses in the river lowlands. There’s no grandeur here. The decay and rot on the surface my hide treasures below, but—nah! LeBlanc offers no promises about the future being brighter.


Consider the dirge-like “Chesapeake Lane”, which is representative of the other tracks on the album in its spirit. The guitar plods along until LeBlanc starts his fragile vocals with slurred words whose meanings are meant to be more suggestive than literal. He sings about waiting and going back, but to what is never clear. One minute the main character wants to return to the “Tennessee Waltz” and the next minute there’s talk about killing the soul. The mix of trope and images blend together to no purpose. For almost six minutes LeBlanc transforms space into a mystical world where nothing ever is ever clear. His creative talent deserves praise. But he doesn’t seem to have a point to make. In this sense, his songs are as flimsy as his voice. They don’t seem to matter or be about anything. No wonder he casts the same old shadow.


Then again, that does seem to be the point. After all, the first song is called “Part One: The End”. Heavy, huh? Not really. The singer may croon “God only knows” but why God should care goes beyond the scope of the lyrics. The organ that begins the piece sets the mood, joined by an acoustic guitar and a church like choir, until the drums lead us into LeBlanc’s voice. He sounds sad and tired. We do not know why or what his burden may be. LeBlanc implies that we share his pain. I don’t, and I found his laments more lame than honest. Sure, life is brutal nasty and short. That doesn’t mean we have to take it lying down. LeBlanc is clearly too aesthetically skilled to give up on the future. But it doesn’t appear he is having fun at present.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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