Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
It should be stated right here, right off the bat, that Leatherbag is great not because almost no one's ever heard of them as that's not what makes a band great. Some people think it is, but it's not. Leatherbag is a band that is great just BECAUSE and then the dot-dot-dot, a long pause and a drifting, languished sigh. It's exasperation that brings those dots and the long pause into the space as there's little reason for the anonymity, but so it goes sometimes. Randy Reynolds, the singer and songwriter behind the Austin-based group, has created a hill country, cattle ride version of Neil Diamond's most all-American sounding writings. The Leatherbag version of "Caroline" is more of an ode to the kinds of deals that the devil makes in the middle of the night, on a forgotten street in the middle of a forgotten state than the "Sweet Caroline," anthem that Diamond wrote, but we'd have to believe that if Rick Rubin were producing the "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" sessions, it would sound a lot closer, giving the ode to Caroline Kennedy in an equestrian's outfit more of that hint that he'd been tapping into the black mist for inspiration. Reynolds' Caroline is referred to, by him, as a "sweet" Caroline as well, but it's almost as if she's the scene after a tornado's ripped through a town - the coming out of the cellar, up into a home that doesn't exist anymore (a home that may be hanging partly out of a tree a county away) and seeing a sky that's showing an autumn orange fighting with a dark blue, hearing birds reluctantly getting back their scared off chirps - just beyond the turmoil. He sings about this Caroline, not as Diamond does, as a girl to be associated with good times as they are, but as the flicker of hope following a demolition, "She's a lily in the mud for me. Do I love, I cannot say," and it's poignant and somewhat unsettling in the way that real feelings on the crust often are. Leatherbag examines the delicate differentiation that love and its harmful traces and tendrils typically share. Its music is full of suffering and inescapable sorrow and discomfort, but that's the way that actuality works out when it's given the chance. The songs on the band's last full-length, "Love & Harm," are pocked with so much to love about difficult reverberations of love unclaimed and love misunderstood. "Maria" is met at the crossroads with a "diamond in her hand" and there must have been an exchange of a handkerchief at some point soon after as the Western, cactus guitar lines set in as something that Eric Bachmann's Crooked Fingers heart would appreciate. It gets wrapped around the idea of speaking quietly so as not to spook whatever could be going on here. It continues and Reynolds adds the dot-dot-dot this time, on his and the band's own terms.