It starts, like any great quest, with a seeker. As the main figure in “Alberta” stumbles through the landscape, the members of Leon III paint a searing picture of one’s quest for completion. We root for the main character as it finds temporary solace, only to find that it’s literally emptier before. Meanwhile, Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent demand satisfaction from the barren plains of Alberta.
“I was thinking about ‘Sister Midnight,’ the Iggy Pop song from The Idiot, when I sketched out ‘Alberta,’” Andy Stepanian says. “‘Alberta’ is the same sort of fatalistic look at desire and the consequences of never being satisfied. I even copped the line, ‘What can I do about my dreams?’ from Iggy or Bowie or whomever actually wrote it because I don’t think I could more eloquently pose the question.”
Leon III is the latest project from Stepanian and Brent, former members of the Wrinkle Neck Mules. Their self-titled debut album, produced by Mark Nevers and released by Cornelius Chapel Records, is an alt-country tour de force. It was the final session recorded at Nevers’ Nashville studio and boasts a cast of legendary musicians including Brian Kotzur (Silver Jews) on drums, Tony Crow (Lambchop) on piano, Pete Finney (Bobby Bare, Dixie Chicks) on pedal steel, Jordan Caress (Caitlin Rose), Kai Welch (Abigail Washburn), and Chris Scruggs (Marty Stuart).
Like many of their peers, Leon III are turning to a psychedelic interpretation of Americana conventions, turning commonplace moments of isolation and longing into epic laments. In short, it puts the “alt” into alt-country: as artists gunning for a huge hit that’s radio-friendly continue to stick to friendly hooks and big production, the burgeoning outlaws of country music are doubling down on just how far they’re willing to push the genre.
“Alberta” is one of my favorite tracks from the album, one that feels the most country while straining against the constraints of a I-IV-V chord structure. The music flows between a delicate web of string arrangements to forceful explosions of emotional verve. It’s a journey through the deepest parts of our ids, spun into magical ego by the capable hands of Leon III.
Leon III is available on Cornelius Chapel Records.
Leon III Track Listing:
- “Maybe I’m Immune”
- “Faded Mountain”
- “From These Heights”
- “Paper Eye”
- “The Line”
- “Between the Saddle & the Ground”
- “The Strongest Medicine”
- “From These Heights (Retold)”