Imagine a cool breeze across a field on a summer’s day, taking a walk that leads you straight into the past where everyone lives a simple life on the land and plays music gathered around an open, flickering fire. Welcome to the sound of Brennen Leigh’s ‘Prairie Love Letter’.
During my project to listen to Dolly Parton’s discography I noticed that she often sings songs about the conflicting emotions that a country girl feels when she leaves home for the city. On the opening song of this album, Brennen Leigh takes that classic country music theme and imagines what it would be like to return to that hometown after your dreams of a better life are dashed. Don’t You Know I’m From Here imagines her a stranger in her home town, forced to reconcile her past and present to understand her future.
From there the album takes us on a journey around the memories and stories of this hometown. Billy & Beau is a ballad of love and heartbreak, with a little twist in the tale.
Now I’m from the country myself but even I would draw a line at songs about tractors, however when they sound as sublime as John Deere H I have to make an exception. The song was inspired by her father’s life.
On North Dakota Cowboy she sings of a heartbreaker straight out of a young cowgirl’s dream. The vocals on this are stunning, and the mandolin too sounds like the flutter of an innocent heart.
Nostalgia sweeps across these songs and on Yellow Cedar Waxwing she walks with her grandmother back through time, a song and a memory from another era where nature bloomed in your imagination and heart. Little Blue Eye Dog is another simple, sweet, infectious ditty that can’t help but make you smile.
The mood changes on I Love the Lonesome Prarie where she sings with a more somber tone about her connection to the land. Elizabeth Minnesota celebrates how the town is a welcome escape and relief from the wider modern world, just like the music she plays.
Prairie Funeral honours a distant way of life, finishing with a beautiful instrumental lament in tribute to her ancestors. The song’s haunting feel mirrors the ghost-like painting on the cover of the album.
You’ve Never Been to North Dakota gives a voice to an old woman’s life story, with the sweetest fiddle accompaniment. Pipeline is a defiant rebuke to the developers who want to destroy the land, reminding us that the blissful harmony of nature is always under threat.
The love letter is signed off with Outside the Jurisdiction of Man, taking a ride in a wagon looking around the empty landscape and finding comfort in the heavenly freedom of nature.
Breathe in the beauty of Prairie Love Letter and you will find a home in the world once again. Brennen Leigh offers us a complete concept album that will make any country, bluegrass and folk music fan sigh in peaceful contentment.
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