On her 1998 debut album, 29 Nights (Decca), Danni Leigh sent a current of rockabilly sass rippling through neotraditionalist honky-tonk and was quickly pegged as "the female Dwight Yoakam." But that formula, so successful for Yoakam, wasn't enough to score her radio play; the record stiffed, and she soon parted ways with the label. Early last year she released A Shot of Whiskey & a Prayer on another Nashville major, the Sony-owned Monument, and the production by Emory Gordy Jr. and Richard Bennett smoothed away most of the gritty personality that had made her debut stand out. (Somebody also did a number on Leigh's hair, torturing it into glamorous curls for the cover shot.) Although the singer's swagger managed to show through some of the generic material, the album remained a depressingly unimaginative stab at the country mainstream--and it flopped just like her debut. Thankfully Leigh's resilient; by last fall she'd moved over to the Nashville indie Audium, recorded with Yoakam's longtime producer Pete Anderson, toured with the Seattle alt-country outfit the Souvenirs, and released her second album of the year, Divide and Conquer. Not only is it her strongest work, but despite partnering with Anderson she's wiggled out from Yoakam's shadow for the first time in her career. Her sound is still deeply rooted in honky-tonk--"House of Pain" sounds like it could be a lost George Jones gem--but she takes some nice stylistic detours, making an organ-stoked country rocker out of Phil Lee's "Somebody Oughta Do Something About That Girl" and injecting a torchy elegance into "My Last Chance Is Gone" by Lucky Lawrence of the Souvenirs. And the title track, one of three melodically fascinating tunes here written by Jim Lauderdale, gets its charge from a hint of gospel. Leigh opens for Hank Williams III, whose new album, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' (Curb), finds him emulating his grandfather via notorious Hank Sr. wannabe Wayne "the Train" Hancock. Wednesday, March 20, 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark Tucker.