Years in the Making
(Reckless Abandon Music)
Somebody took a ball-peen hammer and shattered Leroy Percy's heart into so many pieces they're still finding parts as far north as Pinnacle Peak Road and down south along the banks of the Gila River. Luckily for Phoenicians, the local singer-songwriter was sensible enough to channel that heartbreak into a sonically seamless, emotionally pure 11-song set of country and roots-rock.
Years in the Making is framed, significantly, by a classic cover and a killer original. "Baby Let's Play House" opens the album and is given a more Bakersfield than Memphis rockabilly reading, its relaxed groove allowing Percy's plea of "come back, baby," coupled with his rich pipes (there's some Dave Alvin and Ray Price in there), to attain a measure of silky dignity. Closing number "She Kicked Me Out," however, bears a sense of devastating finality -- "she kicked me out of her life and now I'm out of my mind," sings Percy, later adding, "I didn't know my feelings were so strong" -- and not even a jaunty '50s-styled arrangement, complete with doo-wop vocal harmonies, can disguise the hurt.
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In between, Percy offers a wealth of telling meditations: a Leon Redbone-ish cover of Chad Mitchell's "Mandy Lane" (itself an update of Blind Boy Fuller's bawdy "Truckin' My Blues Away") and Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" (which, with its guitar/banjo/harmonica structure and smooth vocal harmonies, could pass for a latter-day Byrds outtake) both chart man's basic obsession, the other sex. The acidic, country-rocking "Lap Dog" finds Percy grudgingly acknowledging a helpless sense of fealty to the lady, while "I'm All Alone" is so straightforward in its admissions ("I was too headstrong/Lying awake, I'm all alone. I need some help from above") that the lush, accompanying hum of the pedal steel almost sounds like the murmuring assent of Percy's priest offering empathy from the other side of the booth.
Yet in the album's emotional centerpiece, "Singles Lament," what could be bitterly chafing ("Is this really living?/She didn't fit after years together/They weren't even on the same page/Now she's gone/His life is changing") is rendered almost tenderly. Both in the way the band's arrangement lets changes bubble up subtly (Ron Herndon's piano in particular maintains a textural consistency, freeing lead guitarists Mike Breen and Scott Johnston to swap some of the sweetest twang heard west of Austin) and the even-handed manner in which Percy delivers his lines -- wryly reflective, "time to move on" as opposed to weeping-in-beer -- there's a sense that Percy's emerging sense of self-awareness has begun to breed a genuine optimism (and, it should be said, an optimism underscored by the unexpected falsetto "whoo-hoo" that Percy fires off near the song's end, a move that's pure Springsteen). Life and love inevitably may diverge, and all you can do is not be driven permanently aground by either.
Worth noting: Unlike most home-brewed local products that sport such amateurish graphics that you can literally identify a CD in the bins as a consignment item even before you check the address on the sleeve, Percy's product is top-shelf stuff, a full-color tri-fold booklet presentation that includes Percy's song-by-song annotation on the inside and photographs of the songwriter attired in a Nudie-styled western jacket gracing the outside. Nice touch, that.
According to his bio, Scottsdale resident Percy was born in Mississippi, where he grew up singing in choirs; he graduated to performing in folk groups during the '60s. After a brief stint in the military during which he formed a rock band, the Casinos, Percy wound up migrating to L.A. and performed as a solo act on the SoCal club and restaurant scene, ultimately settling down in Arizona. If you spot his name on the club listings of upcoming shows, don't miss him -- he's the genuine article. (Contact: Reckless Abandon, PMB 167, 11445 East Via Linda #2, Scottsdale, AZ 85259; or, www.leroypercy.com)