It’s one thing to be labeled a prodigy. It’s quite another when that distinction is earned for more than one reason. Consider the case of Alex Leach. Having earned his musical accreditation at the tender age of 19, he was afforded the opportunity to perform with Ralph Stanley on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and later gained a steady gig with Stanley’s son, Ralph Stanley II. In addition, he scored success in another medium even earlier, when, at age 15, he was twice chosen “DJ of the Year” from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America in recognition of the radio program he still hosts on Knoxville Tennessee’s highly lauded independent music station, WDVX. Appearances on CMT, the BBC and ABC World Music Tonight added to his accolades.
He’s only 30 now, but he’s successfully built on those laurels by launching his own bluegrass outfit, The Alex Leach Band. Naturally then, their debut album reflects not only his experience and expertise, but also his skills as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and band leader. Produced by Jim Lauderdale — no slouch himself when it comes to a remarkable musical legacy — the aptly-titled I’m The Happiest When I’m Moving showcases a first-rate ensemble, one that includes his wife Miranda Leach sharing lead and harmony vocals, Joshua Gooding contributing mandolin and vocals, Brandon Masur on banjo, JT Coleman playing bass, and special guest John Rigsby pitching in on fiddle.
It’s a rich combination of skills to be sure, one that reflects the group’s decidedly down-home sensibilities. Each of the songs convey a profoundly personal touch, whether it’s the love of Leach’s native East Tennessee as conveyed via the opening track, Take the Long Way Home, the humble homage to some storied musical influences cited in The Turntable, an encouragement to treat people with the same kindness and dignity one would expect from them on Golden Rule, or the unabashed love song that honors the Leachs’ wedding day, Take Me Back. There’s no way to fake such sweet sentiments, and in each instance, the sincerity shines through. So too, when Leach sings about remembrance and reflection on the mournful and melancholy October Fall, one can’t help but embrace that warm whiff of nostalgia.
Naturally then, I’m the Happiest When I’m Moving stays true to its title, proof positive that Leach has taken his talents to the next level. The rapid-fire instrumental James Russell Rag and the upbeat harmony-laden lament, I Can’t Love On This Way, offer evidence enough of his decidedly deft touch. However in a larger sense, it’s also evident that Leach and company have only just begun their journey, one that’s bound to bring them an abundance of accolades, all of which will clearly be well-deserved. Suffice it to say, the new album provides plenty of reason to describe this effort as a joyful move indeed.