Dylan LeBlanc’s 2016 release, Cautionary Tale, swept through like a smooth, cool breeze. His singular vocals and atmospheric rootsy arrangements felt like a hazy ’70s dream, soft and groovy. A follow-up was highly anticipated, and with Renegade, we are not disappointed. LeBlanc’s first album with ATO Records, and with production help from Nashville royalty Dave Cobb, Renegade shows us an artist matured. Stronger, more dynamic vocals, intelligent and rich narratives, and bigger, more electric arrangements are just some of the ways LeBlanc is letting us know he’s grown up a bit in the last few years.
One of the most noticeable aspects of LeBlanc’s evolution as an artist, though, is his confidence, which feels elevated almost to the point of swagger on Renegade. This suits him. While his natural vocal register is still on the softer side, we hear a complete lack of fear or hesitation in his singing this time around. Higher notes and the occasional primal howl or growl make his performances across Renegade particularly impressive. And with his longtime backing band The Pollies joining him in the studio, the instrumental melodies are especially shiny and lush. The album’s standout moment is the perfect hybrid of all these elements. “Lone Rider” fills every last inch of whatever room you play it in, with gorgeous guitars, a hint of a high-pitched organ, and LeBlanc’s world-weary tale of heartbreak and solitude. It’s a road song meant for a long, lonesome journey.
Elsewhere on Renegade, LeBlanc gives us compelling stories he’s compiled from his travels, set to more of The Pollies’ vibrant pop melodies. There’s a prostitute’s quest for self-worth in the stunning “Domino,” and the larger-than-life harmonies of “I See It in Your Eyes.” On the rollicking “Bang Bang Bang,” he relays a tale of gun violence set in New Orleans in the 1960s, and on the album’s title track, he gives us a taste of ’80s rock as a background for stories of living fast and loose.
With Renegade, LeBlanc is fully out of his shell, discovering the range that was there all along, waiting to be found.