After last year’s chart-topping smash hit* Nowhere Left To Run, Randy Reynolds (under the moniker Leatherbag) moves beyond the confines of the “singer/songwriter” with his new album Love & Harm, challenging himself and his listeners with songs culled from a wide spectrum of influence.
In a recent interview on Austin Sound, Reynolds said, “I decided I was going to write every kind of song that I know how to write.” There’s no better explanation of Love & Harm; every track is different from the next, each an exploration into different styles and genres. But while the tracks are distinct from one another, they never feel like tangents or digressions, instead serving more as limbs that function together to the benefit of the body as a whole.
The opening track “On Down The Line” hits hard, driven by intensity seldom found on previous Leatherbag records. Heavy rhythm guitar punctuates the unapologetic verses that are more spoken than sung resulting in a powerful rock and roll song with White Light / White Heat competence. The following track, “Growin’ Old,” has the feel of a Rubber Soul-era Beatles song and introduces lyrical themes of youth and maturation that recur throughout the album, particularly in the next song “It’s Over (I’m Not Young Anymore).” Over an intelligent blend of pop and rock, Reynolds screams with Westerberg-like passion, “I ain’t young anymore / Just put me to bed ‘cause all this rock and roll is such a bore.”
The two centerpieces “LOL” and “Jesus Come Back” switch gears, showcasing Leatherbag’s pop sensibilities with vocal hooks, light piano, slide guitars and fun back-up vocals. The final third of the album sees a return to traditional folk in “Caroline,” a melancholy banjo-laden song about finding love up North. The end of every lyrical phrase falls to a delicate whisper as he describes his “magnolia blossom” as “a glimmer of hope in a young man’s eye.” The title track and “Song To Simon” end the album with a continuation of the Dylan-esque trend begun by “Caroline.” As much as the beginning of the album is a departure from his earlier releases, the last three songs embrace the strength of his folk tendencies without using them as a crutch.
In twenty five minutes, Leatherbag generously offers an undeniably strong folk album supplemented with pop sensibility and some good old rock and roll. Each song is different, its own page in a book bound by thematic elements, instrumentation and Reynolds’ distinctively appealing voice. The stylistic contrasts of each song find a home on an album already full of contrast: Folk and rock. Familiar and new. Youth and maturity. Love and harm.