Leigh Glass has the kind of self-assurance and sass that makes her both larger than life and instantly familiar. Like she’d be the ultimate best friend. Her songs feel that way, too. Which is kind of what country music has always been about. It’s catchy and comfortable, relatable. It’s the stuff of folk heroes and punch lines, but not pretension. And, as country has moved away from twang and ten-gallon hats and aligned itself more with rock guitars and pop sensibilities, artists like Glass prove even more viable on that stage.
A few years ago, Something In The Water, the just-released album by Leigh Glass & The Hazards wouldn’t have been filed under country. Maybe roots, maybe Americana. It rocks too hard; the songwriting leans on substance and storytelling instead of folksy zingers. But these days, Glass is right in line with the likes of Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry. She’s a fierce front woman with a voice that ranges from snarl to molasses-sweet. And her band (Corey Bullman on guitar and vocals, Bryan White on bass and Patrick Wells on drums) is impeccable, providing plenty of polish and flair but also knowing when to stand back and let Glass have the spotlight.
The record’s title track sets the mood, opening with pure rock guitar, menacing as a motorcycle. It’s only a minute in before Glass’ vocal takes off. She’s a big singer with the kind of voice that can belt without betraying the effort. But Glass also knows how to reign it in, allowing the intensity to build.
“Hometown Superstar” has a country radio feel. It’s commercial in style, telling the story of “a big-hipped, wide-eyed superstar …she made the boys go crazy and the women scream. At closing time they’d all say, ‘That girl can sing.’” Surely there’s a bit of autobiography to the song, in which the singer passes up a recording contract because she’d rather be herself with a small-town fan base that appreciates her. But it also poses the question, if Glass moved to Nashville, how would she fare? (My guess is, with the right management, pretty well.)
“Poison Apple” is a softer track, its metaphors more obscure but its purpose (this is a soul-searching song) is clear. Some delicate acoustic guitar work by Forest Smith adds to the overall bittersweet effect.
“Pay No Mind” is a stand out — Glass sings in her upper register, channeling the gentler moments of Heart. This is a fierce love song, fraught with controlled emotion, building instrumentation, layers of guitar and reverb, the jangle of tambourine and lyrics that tap something universal: “The sun shines brighter than ever before and the air is so much sweeter when there’s an open door. Don’t think, just do, now that your world is anew. These old cliches about love are true.”
“Yesterday’s King” is interesting for its textures. This is another story-telling song and, while it’s lyrically intriguing, it’s the combination of guitar melodies and rock drumming, along with some syncopated rhythms in Glass’ vocal, that really shine. From start to finish the song engages the listener.
Final track, “Hurricane,” begins with straightforward guitar-and-kick-drum-style Americana, all shades of John Cougar and small town anthems. This song is so well-crafted, from its “hey now, hey now” chorus to its cozy harmony and vocal break, that it feels like the sound track to cutting class from high school to cruise the back roads in some distant decade, even though the song has only been on CD for a month or so. An instant classic.
Leigh Glass and the Hazards play the French Broad Brewery on Friday, May 11, from 6-10 p.m. Free.