Many outfits would likely seem somewhat daunted by the prospect of opening for a legend like Rodney Crowell, and yet Alex Leach seemed totally at ease in that role this past Saturday (8/20/21) in lovely Oak Ridge TN. At the second of a series of free outdoor concerts dubbed the Summer Sessions, presented by radio station WDVX, and sponsored by the ORNL Federal Credit Union, the group managed to avert the lingering threat of rain while sharing a set that rivaled that of Crowell, the show’s headliner.
Then again, Leach and his five piece band — wife Miranda (vocals), JT Coleman (bass), Joshua Gooding (mandolin), and Jason Johnson (banjo) — do possess a certain hometown advantage. Leach is something of a boy wonder. He began making regular appearances on WDVX at the tender age of nine after introducing himself to station manager, Tony Lawson. Now, some 22 years later, he continues to host a pair of programs heard regularly on the station — Bluegrass Special and Rize N Shine. Not only is he a listener favorite, but an award-winning DJ as well, having twice been accorded SPBGMA’s Bluegrass DJ of The Year from the time he was 15.
It practically goes without saying then that now, at age 31, Leach is already a seasoned entertainer. He started performing music professionally at age 19, and shortly thereafter he was recruited by Ralph Stanley II for what became the newest incarnation of the Clinch Mountain Boys, with whom he shared the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and many others as well.
That experience has clearly served him well. Leach shares a natural youthful exuberance onstage, leaning into the microphone and eagerly providing a set of songs culled from his recent debut album, I’m The Happiest When I’m Moving, which featured production credits by Jim Lauderdale. The band boasts tight-knit harmonies and exuberant instrumental skills, with special kudos due Gooding for his adept picking and plucking. That was especially evident when he, Masur, and Leach stepped forward to command center stage.
Naturally, the crowd cheered their “homeboy” at every interval, while taking their appreciation several decibels higher when the band tossed in a few choice covers. The list included classics by the Byrds and Fleetwood Mac (their take on Say That You Love Me was especially infectious), as well a tender version of two disparate age-old standards — Fair and Tender Ladies and Jump Jive. A tribute to his late friend and fellow musician Steve Gulley, with whom he shared the radio waves at WDVX, also resonated with emotion and eloquence.
Still, the song that resonated with special significance was Golden Rule, a track taken from the band’s aforementioned album. “The one that made you, made him,” Leach sang, sharing a reminder that in these tumultuous times it’s important to look out for one another. So too, the beautiful ballad, Mandy Mae, struck a gentle tone as well, given its lovelorn sentiment and hope of meeting in the hereafter.
It was that communal feel that pervaded the band’s performance overall while also reinforcing the fact that Leach is indeed worthy of being considered a hometown hero. Given the performance this past Saturday, that status was reaffirmed and assured.