A French-born guitarist, mandolin and harmonica player based in New Caledonia (an island nation located in the southwest Pacific Ocean), Jean-Luc Leroux takes a new turn with his latest album — and 13th to date — Country Music Time. While previous efforts have focused on his instrumental abilities — which are substantial to say the least, his new effort shares a series of songs that prove especially emphatic. So too, although Leroux’s vocal skills seem somewhat stifled at times, his skill as a songwriter makes for a most memorable offering, ten songs that resonate even on first hearing.
That’s not to say he’s avoiding any emphasis on his playing abilities. A pair of excellent instrumentals, Just In Time and After All, prove particularly compelling — the former courtesy of its busy pluck and strum, the latter by sharing a sweet serenade in which dobro plays a prominent part. They’re part and parcel of a series of selections that appear to offer a renewed burst of exuberance and enthusiasm. Whatever the reason, several songs stand out — the effusive album opener, Open Road Again, Peindre le chief with its effusive stride, the easy and unhurried Quand le Printemps revinndra, and Quand t’es pas la , courtesy of its supple sway. The folk-like sound of When the Night Is Falling and the Cajun flavor of Whiskey Courage reflect Leroux’s devotion to diversity, proving that he’s as versatile in his tones and tunes as he is through his prowess and proficiency.
Credit is due an impressive supporting cast as well — Doug Jernigan and Denis Blanchard (pedal steel), Aaron Till, Matt Hooper, and Thierry Lecoq (violin), Amy Ames (chant), Carole Stacy (bass), Kelsey Crews, Jean-Marie Redon and Stéphane Missri (banjo), Thierry Loyer, Denis Blanchard and Doug Jernigan (dobro), Christian Poidevin (harmonica), Orville Grant (rhythm guitar), and Michael Guerra (accordion). Leroux himself is credited with mandolin, guitar, and harmonica.
Still, due to the fact that several of these songs are sung in French — as certain titles indicate — it’s still necessary to lean in and listen. On the other hand, Leroux’s limitations as a singer are mooted by the fact that the vocals are somewhat muddled in the mix. No matter though — the overall results are tasteful and tuneful, ensuring this Country Music Time becomes time well spent.