Ear Trumpet Folk Club: Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay
A delicious mix of raw, retro country plus sweet irony from this stunning Austin-based duo
Ear Trumpet Folk Club: Regular intimate, sit-down gigs with some of the greatest musicians from around the globe.
Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay craft story songs with equal measures heart (“Before the World Was Made”) and humor (“Breaking Up And Making Up Again”). Evidence: Before the World Was Made. The Austin-based songwriters’ debut collaboration spotlights celebrated troubadours in peak form (“Before We Come to Our Senses”). “These are modern day country duets à la George Jones and Melba Montgomery,” producer Gurf Morlix says, “but with very sophisticated songwriting.”
Before the World Was Made began taking shape three years ago right as Leigh’s solo high watermark The Box stirred waves far and wide. (Lee Ann Womack, Sunny Sweeney and the Carper Family have covered her defiantly traditional country songs). By that point, Leigh was well rooted in Austin, where she moved after growing up playing in a family band in Minnesota. “I was attracted to the scene in Austin,” she says. “It’s a great place to learn and get better at what I do.”
Meanwhile, McKay fronted the regionally popular McKay Brothers (Cold Beer and Hot Tamales), a band legendary songwriter Guy Clark had been championing for years. “Noel and Brennen are great songwriters,” says Clark, whose new album My Favorite Picture of You contains the McKay co-write “El Coyote.” The album went on to win a Grammy for best Folk album in 2014.
Everyday conversation suggests Leigh and McKay indeed share a single mindset. The pair simply compliment each other in every way. “Brennen’s really great at melodies,” McKay says. “She’s always kicking around a melody around the house and it’s great and she’ll attach it to a lyric idea that’s equally great. She writes characters in her songs like a novelist.” “Noel always has the line,” Leigh counters. “It’s like, How are we gonna wrap this up? How are we gonna bring it around so it makes sense? He always ties it up. He always knows. Noel’s a poet.”
“Before the World Was Made is a delicious mix: raw, retro country plus sweet irony. That’s apparently the speciality of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, the Austin-based duo whose debut is hilarious, sentimental and profound, usually all at the same time.”
CMA Close Up
“Before the World Was Made is a witty, heartfelt record of dusty barroom shuffles, sassy two-steps and ethereal country-folk. It’s informed by the vintage duets of George Jones and Melba Montgomery, as well as the more modern pairing of John Prine and Iris DeMent.”