Alex Leach Band — All The Way
by John Job
Want to hear a true story from Appalachia? The thing about life in East Tennessee is, the stories are all real. Can’t make this stuff up.
I climbed into my truck this morning to meet my ex at our local elementary school to walk in with my five-year-old daughter on her first day of kindergarten. We split up a couple months ago when my beautiful wife decided to leave me for a guy 30 years younger than me, a guy she went to high school with who had just come back to town after doing 10 years in federal prison for opioid trafficking and felony gun possession. Kid you not. He’s living with his mommy and daddy, under house arrest until Thanksgiving. Wears an ankle monitor. She thinks he’s rehabilitated, and she’s five months pregnant by him. I moved out. He’s moving in. And we’re all trying to cope. It ain’t easy.
I turned on the radio to WDVX, and I hear my old buddy Steve Gulley, who passed away two years ago…
As I make my way in life / I think of Daddy’s words / And to this day they’re still the best advice I’ve ever heard / Don’t live along the foothills / with the mountaintop nearby / You’ll never know how high you’ll go until the day you try / Aim high, aim high.
That’s a Jon Weisberger song, sung by the achin’est alto I ever heard, now as silent as the hills. Damn I miss that voice. It could make a Plott hound cry. After that last soaring “aim high,” the morning DJ comes in. It’s Alex Leach, doing the job Steve Gulley did before he died, holding the reins at “Rise & Shine,” easily the best couple of hours of bluegrass radio anywhere in America, a program anyone can listen to ever’ weekday morning at WDVX.com.
Alex has been at WDVX for more than two decades, starting his DJ career before he was 12, with a voice like a ripe pawpaw and an accent as authentic as Steve Gulley channeling George Jones. He came out of the deep rolling hills north of Clinton, knocked on the door of the camping trailer where WDVX started its broadcasting life 25 years ago, and he brought with him an encyclopedic knowledge of bluegrass history that he seemed to have been born with. Over the years, that knowledge has just gotten deeper and broader, the same way the Clinch River widens out into the Tennessee.
It stands to reason that a mind as aware and active as Alex Leach’s, steeped in probably 50,000 hours of bluegrass listening since he started at WDVX, would sooner or later begin to create the music his soul hears inside itself. And three years ago, the Alex Leach Band was born.
Right out of the gate, the band was recognized immediately for a new kind of potential. Jon Weisberger, the first IBMA Songwriter of the Year, said the ALB could redefine bluegrass with its originality, which he defined as their “purposeful evolution away from long held stereotypes.”
Purposeful evolution. Sounds like the recipe to liberation, if you ask me.
Progress, change, innovation, and renewal are not accidental. This defines all the young bloods reshaping Appalachian-flavored roots music right now, right before our eyes. Billy Strings. Amythyst Kiah. Queen Esther. Leyla McCalla. Molly Tuttle. Lula Wiles. Sierra Hull. Michael Cleveland. The Local Honeys. Rhiannon Giddens. Hilary Hawke. And now you can add the Alex Leach Band.
Jim Lauderdale: “The Alex Leach Band is one of the most talented groups I’ve ever met. They’re steeped in tradition, with one foot in the future.” It’s not Old Timey. It’s Next Timey.
The ALB’s Jon Weisberger-produced new album, “All The Way,” on the Mountain Home Music label, is very next timey. Twelve cuts, ten of them original, one a co-writing prize-winner by Leach, Weisberger and Lauderdale, plus a Joe South cover, and an absolutely jewel-like take on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” in which the interplay of Miranda and Alex Leach’s married voices is what the song always begged for, echoed perfectly by the twin fiddles behind them.
We work our jobs / Collect our pay / Believe we’re gliding down the highway / When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.
It’s odd, really, how such a beautiful lyric could fly past your awareness in its original recording nearly 50 years ago, in an era when Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, and so many other bluegrass titans were still with us. Before they all slipped away.
Now, even if you’ve heard Paul Simon sing it a million times, along come Alex and Miranda, and you hear “Slip Slidin’ Away” for the first time.
Backing Alex and his wife on All The Way are the turbocharged quartet of J.T. Coleman (bass), Kasey Moore (fiddle and guitar), Baker Northern (banjo), and Zack Russell (guitar and mandolin).
The band is skillfully complemented by contributions from Chris Castle (pedal steel), Chris Sexton, Bryan McDowell and Carley Arrowood (fiddles), Jason Johnson and Derek Vadon (banjos), Roscoe Morgan and Josh Gooding (mandolins), and Tony Creasman (percussion).
As I listened to the album over and over, letting the mixes sink in, some of Alex and Miranda’s songs suggested other voices. “Wanderlust,” for instance, wants to be a hit for The Chicks. “Lineman in the Rain” would have fit Levon Helm perfectly. Bonnie Raitt should sing “The Game is Always Different.” And “She’s on a Different Train,” the Leach / Lauderdale / Weisberger collaboration, should have been a show closer for Lester Flatt.
“Little Secret,” by contrast, gets wound up so tight, it can only be performed by a band accustomed to such breakneck speed. The Alex Leach Band, goin’ all the way.
The album was produced by Alex Leach; recorded, mixed and mastered by Clay Miller.
Find more info, here: https://www.thealexleachband.com/