On his seventh album, Montpelier’s country music/honky-tonk singer/songwriter gives us 10 new songs on “This Dream I’m In.” Essentially, there are two album styles here on this 36-minute CD, the insightful social commentarian who writes about rural poverty, as in “Duct Tape County,” veteran issues in “Homeless,” and changing social mores in “Mary Jane’s Waltz.” The other seven tracks explore typical country themes of love and leaving as in “Lonely Boy,” “Leavin’ Again,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “When You Don’t Want Me,” “True North” and the title track, “This Dream I’m In.”
LeGrand’s best songs, lyrically speaking, are the ones that deal with social commentary.
LeGrand’s previous release was the EP “Wrong Turn,” which was produced by Colin McCaffrey and featured five gritty, cinéma-vérité songs including “Everytime I’m Getting Over You,” about drug and alcohol use; “The Cops Took My Sweetheart Last Night; ”Four Walls, a Door and a Window,” about a woman trying to get help for her addiction; and “I Don’t Sing in Bar Rooms Anymore,” about the changing entertainment business in Vermont.
I mention these previous songs because on this new CD LeGrand has changed producers, using Eric Sigsby instead of McCaffrey, and as a result we hear a very different approach to LeGrand’s music. Where McCaffrey was uptempo and raw, Sigsby is more ballad, with long instrumental passages between verses.
The choice of Ray Paczkowski on piano and organ and Jason Jack Merrihew on guitar are inspired. They are both lyrical players, and Paczkowski especially fills lots of aural space with his lovely piano balladeer style while showing some Texas Swing styling, as on “Lonely Boy.” Merrihew also shines in a variety of guitar styles. Russ Lawton sets the underpinning with his thoughtful drumming. LeGrand sings and plays bass. Interestingly, the bass is mixed low and is sometimes nearly inaudible.
Because the musicianship, especially the piano work, is so good, the album seems to breathe more than on LeGrand’s previous work. The lyrically weaker songs shine because the musicians’ lead parts are interesting.
LeGrand’s vocal delivery is smooth, slow, careful and mostly spoken. He’s not a belter or crooner, but he gets his message across because his voice carries sincerity. After all, these are his songs.
The best songs are those with social insight in the lyrics. “Duct Tape County,” is a hard-driving country rocker that reminds us, “Don’t drink the water in Duct Tape County.”
(I’ve been getting too close to) “Somebody Else’s Crazy” is a bluesy “swamp rock” number with a catchy title about living with someone who is dysfunctional in a rural setting.
“Homeless,” about an Afghanistan war veterans reminded me of John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” about a Vietnam veteran. “Homeless” could have been taken from a newspaper article or nighttime TV news story. It’s all too truthful and poignant. It’s a piano-driven slow ballad.
The song that might get the most airplay is “Mary Jane’s Waltz,” which is sung to a solo piano accompaniment. It’s about the marijuana culture (Mary Jane is a pot reference) and the waltz time is clever. He sings, “Yes we smoked pot a lot, you won’t believe how much we got, I tried to tell you but then I forgot.” As a consequence of the changing view of marijuana and its commercial potential LeGrand sings, “Now it might just save the farm.” With a tongue-in-cheek stab as the anti-drug establishment, he concludes with “We might be high, like it or not, yes we smoke pot a lot.”
Mark LeGrand is a local talent to take note of. He’s a keen observer of social issues, and on those songs he shines. Songs about love and relationship are less strong, but the musicianship here is so good that the songs get a lift.
There is an album release party for Mark LeGrand’s “This Dream I’m In” from 7-10 p.m. Friday. Nov. 8, at Sugarhouse Sounds Studio, 441 Mad River Park, Waitsfield. Which has a full indoor live stage. LeGrand performs with Sarah Munro, Jason Jack Merrihew, Phil Carr, Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski. There will be food, beer and wine available. Tickets are currently available on SevenDays Tickets for $21, which includes a copy of Mark’s album and food. Beer and wine will be available for purchase.