The short version: For my 1st album review of the new year, I reach back to discover a talented young artist on the rise.
- Favorite tracks: “Comfy Chair/A Dream That Never Ends”, “Seeing You Tonight”, “Moaning Lisa Screaming”, Your Picture”, “Great Outdoors”
- Least favorite tracks: “Wanted”, “Running Scared”
Personal rating: 7/10
The long version: Yes, this is definitely how we should start out 2018 – by talking about an album from 2017. Granted, it’s not like there’s an abundance of albums knocking at my door anyway at the moment, so it’s really only fitting to review something old before we start anew. Besides, how the hell did I or really anyone else for that matter miss out on hearing an album produced by Dwight freakin’ Yoakam?!? While King Leg (or rather, Bryan Joyce) is certainly a name to keep your eye on, it’s a shame that such a good effort flew under the radar. Then again, Country of all kinds has always had a problem marketing itself in the Internet age.
Anyway, Meet King Leg is the kind of album that honestly doesn’t leave me with a lot to say. Maybe it’s just me starting my engines back up after the holiday, but really, with each and every listen I’m convinced that this is the type of album that doesn’t need a lot of words to describe it. It’s a vibrant collection of Country, Soul, and Rock and Roll that takes the backbone of a JD McPherson album and blends it with the coolness of well…Dwight Yoakam with catchy hooks galore. It is not a great album or an excellent album, but it’s a solid start to what could be a promising career for King Leg.
As you could probably guess by now, this album is unashamedly retro in its style by blending in old school Rockabilly and Country, but much like say, Whitey Morgan’s “Sonic Ranch” from a few years ago, there is also a lot of modern crunch added to the guitar melodies. A song like “Great Outdoors” sounds like a throwback to the Beatles of all acts (weird given the subject matter but more on that later), but that fantastic riff immediately draws you in. I love dynamic openers, and this album has that. Elsewhere you get the hard charge of the instrumental track, “Moaning Lisa Screaming” which honestly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on that last Marty Stuart album, especially with that excellent bass groove. You’ve also got “Your Picture” which is probably the most Dwight Yoakam-y (?) track on this entire album and pulls it off exceptionally well. Honestly, he may be adapting a style that’s already been done before when it’s all said and done, but when it’s done this well I couldn’t care less.
Along the way you also get tracks such as “Walking Again” and “Another Man” which are probably the two tracks that will appeal most to Country listeners, and tracks like “Loneliness” and “Seeing You Tonight” succeed solely for their breezier atmospheres, solid rhythms and overall looser feels.
There is however a “but” to all of this, because really, if we’re supposed to “meet” King Leg with this album, it won’t be for the lyrics. It will be for the style. That’s more than alright, but if I’m going to dock points with this album, it will definitely be with the writing. Honestly King Leg succeeds when he’s just going for looser, simpler themes like the sweet “Seeing You Tonight “or the silly but yet all the more biting, “Your Picture”. I may love “Great Outdoors” for literally other element, but the song that sounds like an old Beatles cut ends up being just a vague, generic homage to well…America. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so repetitive, and to be fair, I would still label this a highlight. However, it’s usually the lyrics that keep me from really loving this album, and that’s frustrating.
“Another Man” slows things down to be a simple acoustic number, so right away you can tell they’re likely going to go for something more “serious”. Instead it just ends up talking about people who don’t chase their dreams hoping to showcase in the end how we’ll never truly be alive until we live the life we want to live, because we haven’t heard that before. Then you have “Wanted” which is just a cheesy, clichéd track that tries to use the title to mean multiple meanings, because again, Alan Jackson didn’t already do this with his own track of the same name. The closing track, “Running Scared” is probably the worst offender lyrically, mostly because it sets up this situation where this guy’s lover’s ex resurfaces. This leads him to question his lover’s loyalty to him, even going so far as to assume that she’s going to leave him. The paranoia surrounding this track makes me kind of want to root for the other guy, just sayin’. If it weren’t for that more crisp organ or marching rhythm surrounded by an excellent arrangement overall, I’d easily label this the worst track. Instead, I’ll give it “Wanted” for being the only track here to feel tired and uninspired.
There is one huge moment on this album though that really makes me root for this guy even more than I have thus far though, and that’s the dual track of “Comfy Chair/A Dream That Never Ends”. Once I listen to this track, it all makes sense. King Leg is best off when he’s not trying to reach for any complex lyrical scenarios like on “Running Scared” or completely ignoring them on “Wanted”. He’s best off when he takes a simple theme and uses it as the base for the instrumentation and production to build off. At its core it’s a heartbreaking track that finds a guy bitter and sad over a breakup. It starts off nice and slow with little more than acoustic guitar, and light drums to keep the beat before sprinkling in some very tasteful violin during the chorus. On that note, it’s as good of a time as any to discuss King Leg as a vocalist. Honestly, it’s weird. There are times where he really stretches himself too far like on “Cloud City “or parts of “Your Picture”, but there are other times where he just sounds so damn excellent and convincing like on “Seeing You Tonight” and more importantly, this track (but what the hell is that falsetto at the end?!?). It’s a beautiful moment where the lyrics determine the mood set. The loud guitars come in when he screams “I’m sick of missing you”. Then all of a sudden we switch the second part of the track which is the polar opposite of the first half in every way. It’s upbeat and shows the narrator in happier spirits as he acknowledges that he’ll eventually be alright before descending back into that darkness of the first half one last time. In a way it shows the duality of reality and the mindset we should be in. The first half of the track symbolizes what he’s feeling right then and there, but the second half is where he’d really like to be, even though the overall tone of the song suggests that he may never actually get there. It’s such a brilliant moment on the album that is easily the highlight of this entire album. To come up with something like this on a debut album really gives me hope over the potential this guy has.
So overall, Meet King Leg definitely isn’t without its flaws, but at the same time there is a lot of potential showcased here. I think if King Leg can let the melodies and atmospheres build off of the lyrical content like he does on “Comfy Chair…” or “Seeing You Tonight”, he could have something truly excellent on his hands. Until then, we’ve got a debut album that’s definitely solid, so be sure to check it out.
Personal rating: Decent 7