With a name like Leatherbag (and his backing band “The Cows”), you might expect a rollicking, honkey-tonk sound or even a loud and crass hell-billy rock. In actuality, however, the songs on Love Me Like the Devil are all soft and slow folk narratives, deftly written and understatedly delivered with a mournful cello and slide-guitar backing.
Leatherbag’s voice is rough hewn with a weariness expressed in the best folk songs, but the scratchiness of his singing isn’t overpowering. Rather it shades these songs gently with age and a wise-beyond-his-years sound in the vein of William Elliot Whitmore. The songs also move with a mysterious, slightly uneven phrasing that makes it seem as if only he could properly sing them. But those unique inflections and pauses also keep the songs interesting and rewarding amid the album’s overall lack of variation.
The opening track, “Tennessee,” may be the best on the album. Like Springsteen’s “The River” or “Thunder Road,” the destination becomes an illusion of escape and hope, filtered through a lonesome memory: “Cruising down the highway listening to my daddy’s stereo / Lou Reed’s singin’ a song that both of us know / She said this is alright with me / I can follow these jagged lines all the way to Tennessee.” The droning cello and quivering slide guitar give the songs the feel of late night cigarettes smoking out a solitary heartbreak, and even a love song like “Karrie’s Song” is tinged with a feeling of longing and loss.
Leatherbag’s songwriting hovers on the edges of Cohen and Dylan, especially on the brilliant “Jenny from Milwaukee.” His best songs also seem to recall Richard Buckner’s Bloomed in their atmosphere and lyrics, and a touch of Smog’s recent work in their intensity. But those comparisons should only emphasize the singularity of Leatherbag’s songwriting and the exceptionalness of the album.
- Doug Freeman Austinsound.net