The young prodigy and the aging star

There are almost as many examples of young prodigies who have crashed and burned, cracked up or deserted their vocation altogether — from Rimbaud to Bobby Fischer — under the strain of so singularly focusing on something at a young age. Whether Dylan LeBlanc will fall victim to this or not remains to be seen, but he definitely fits the bill of the young prodigy.

Just turning 21 this year, LeBlanc returns to the Orange Peel for the second time in less than two months (he was there supporting rocker Lissie last month) as the opener for Lucinda Williams this coming Wednesday. A native of Louisiana, LeBlanc (whose father was a country-music songwriter) grew up hanging out at Fame Studios, and was signed to a record deal (by Fame’s producing arm) as soon as he was of legal age.

LeBlanc is soft-spoken and self-deprecating, his sentences often lessening in volume the farther into them he gets. A good guitar picker by age 7, he was already a polished songwriter by his teens, and the songs on his debut, Pauper’s Field, show a surprising amount of depth and nuance. “I think a lot. I probably think too much,” he says of his writing process, “like when you imagine something so hard you can actually see it, I'll just get lost in my head and try to make up a story.”

LeBlanc has been touring extensively, and when asked how he had adjusted to life on the road, he demurs. “I feel less worthless on the road,” he says.

LeBlanc’s work, both musically and geographically, seems more akin to Lucinda Williams than Lissie, and when asked about opening for her declared, without hesitation, “It’s wonderful, it restores my faith in humanity.”

And if there is an archetype that springs to mind as the antithesis of the young prodigy it would be the aging star, steadily producing work, and working to stave off the cruel possibility of sliding back into relative mediocrity. Lucinda Williams, who at 58 has just released her tenth studio album, Blessed, would seem a fair example.

After a string of relatively disappointing albums, Blessed marks a return to the vitality of her landmark Car Wheels on A Gravel Road, and showcases Williams at her best as a songwriter. In contrast to Dylan LeBlanc, Williams has always been a songwriter great at writing extremely personal songs, and imbuing them with heartbreak and sadness that had a palpable universality.

Her personal approach is just as prevalent on this album, but her perspective has shifted from her younger, and often angrier, songs such as “Pineola” and “Joy.” The demeanor Williams exhibits on this latest album is a calmer, more mature, more confident songwriter and singer than on previous efforts. The production qualities as well bespeak a new milestone for Williams. Gone are the genre experiments of Little Honey, the unfocused instrumentation and writing of West, and this album, under the careful production of Don Was, puts her inimitable vocals front and center, as they should be, and carefully and thoughtfully builds the music around them on each song.

Dylan LeBlanc, at the start of his career, is said to put on a solid live show, and the songs on his debut album are certainly promising. Whether he can build this start into the long-term career he hopes for remains to be seen, but his efforts so far are at least noticeable enough to check out. And, after making an album that is such a thoroughly enjoyable listen all the way through, Lucinda Williams’ performance will surely be one that is not to be missed.

— Chall Gray is a freelance writer and producer and the owner of The Magnetic Field, a cafe/bar/performance house in the River Arts District.

who: Lucinda Williams, with Dylan LeBlanc
where: The Orange Peel
when: Wednesday, March 16 (8 p.m. $35.


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