At 22 years old, Dylan LeBlanc is a promising talent almost beyond compare. Where most musicians in their early twenties are wearing baggy tropical shirts from the 80s and farting around with synths and samplers, LeBlanc possesses the maturity of a man (or should that be boy) far beyond his age. His impressive country croon, his knack for writing darkly poetic country-pop and a team of producers who enthusiastically approached the man (boy) himself in order to give his songs added wisdom and complexity. His debut Paupers Field, released by Rough Trade in 2010, led the The Guardian to hastily dubbing him "the new Neil Young" and MOJO reckoned that "greatness beckons" the young man (not a man, definitely a boy). Listening to Cast the Same Old Shadow, however, and you can't help but feel that either that initial praise was reactionary revisionism on behalf of a media who were sick of the new-wave scenesters and hipsters with their reverb-laden tropical pop love in, or perhaps LeBlanc is too timid a character to be the real "new Neil Young."
LeBlanc has a powerful beauty in his voice, even if it sometimes falls on the side of 'Kermit-the-Frog-impression', and the songs themselves fall somewhere between Calexico style Americana desertscapes and the alternative roots country music of Jonathan Wilson. He's not quite as uncool as Conway Twitty or George Strait but certainty not as exciting as Wilco's early drug-fuelled forays into country-rock. With all its soft percussion, luscious pedal steel guitar and cinematic arrangements, Cast the Same Old Shadow very much exists in the same environment as Neil Young's Harvest. However, unlike that alt.country classic, LeBlanc lacks the anger and bitterness which imbued Mr. Young in his twenties and, as a result, made him one of the most captivating and controversial artists of the 20th Century.
Cast the Same Old Shadow is a beautiful exorcise in orchestral arrangement, not surprising seeing that the record has been co-produced by Dylan and Grammy award-winning engineer Trina Shoemaker (Queens of the Stone Age, Sheryl Crowe, EmmyLou Harris), but the songs themselves are rather single paced and lack the necessary attack to make this album an exciting listen. Apart from the welcome introduction of crunchy distorted guitar chords one third of a way through 'Brother' (the album's stand-out track), the tempo and volume remains flat throughout. Even LeBlanc seems unsure of whether to make his voice as clear and as it was on previous recordings, leaving his vocals somewhat muffled and, at times, his lyrics verging on undecipherable.
Something is obviously eating away at this young man's (again, boy's) mind as the songs possess a heavy sadness which cast a dark shadow across the deserts of California where his music strives to exist. It would have been great to see LeBlanc really exercise his demons on record in an abrasive and blunt manner to create a sound which is enthralling and confrontational. Unfortunately, even if Cast the Same Old Shadow is a form of catharsis for LeBlanc, for a listener, it's a fairly glum and tepid affair.