Rising country crooner Logan Ledger recently released the first two singles from his eponymous debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett and due in October. “Starlight” and “Imagining Raindrops” form a resounding introduction for the California native, who works in an aesthetic best described as “Country Noir.”
“Starlight,” with its cosmic country meets Bakersfield vibe, straddles the line between Buck Owens and Dick Dale, while “Imagining Raindrops” is a wistful, classic ballad full of sorrow and warbling pedal steel. Ledger sings both like a modern George Jones with an appreciation for Chris Isaak’s stylish, brooding moods. It’s the darkest shade of blue.
T Bone Burnett has been incredible at establishing a specific and unique mood for albums. The albums he’s produced, there’s often a shared sonic palette where that atmosphere and feeling carries through from beginning to end.
Absolutely. There’s songs that I’ve written that didn’t make the album for precisely that reason. They just didn’t fit. This album is very dark. It’s spooky and mysterious. He’s good at that.
Often, when you think of a country album being dark, you think of it as being Southern Gothic in nature. It’s almost weighted with a thickness in the air. In your music though, there’s a darkness, but it’s much more of a sleek noir feel.
Totally. I think lyrically is where there’s a major difference. Maybe it’s Western Gothic.
How much of that is advised and shaped by growing up in California? It feels like there’s a lot of influence from the Bakersfield Sound.
Yeah, Bakersfield was always about electric instruments and danceable rhythms. It was more Western music. If you look at the Fifties, the differences between Western and country music were more apparent. Country was more in line with the likes of Roy Acuff. It was a hillbilly country thing with no drums. Western was more Bob Wills and Speedy West with electric guitars and is danceable. Now that distinction is almost meaningless. I guess Ernest Tubb kind of brought Western vibes into the mainstream version of country music in that era.
Some of those other California sounds and scenes have bled into the mix too though. There’s some surf rock and a touch of the cosmic deserty tones of Joshua Tree that add another texture. Has that been by design?
I guess on some level it is a conscious decision because I’m wanting to create something new. Surf rock is so sonically similar to Western. It’s the same twangy guitars. It feels like it’s the common denominator. Electric Fender guitars. That’s not really difficult to merge. When I was younger, I learned a lot of surf rock instrumentals. It’s a part of my vocabulary. I wanted to also incorporate some of the San Francisco psychedelia. It’s not super apparent, but in there subtly.
You’ve mentioned how a song like “Starlight” has a minimalist approach, something you’ve called “hillbilly haikus.” Does that also come from being inspired by Fifties country music?
Yeah. Most of my favorite writers from the Fifties and Sixties, they were all really minimal lyricists. If you think of a lot of Willie Nelson songs, like “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and so on, they’re all lyrically minimal, but incredibly profound. They hit you. A song like “Crazy” is universally applicable. It’s not even really a country song. It’s just a great pop song. That whole era, those writers were trying to create international hits on some level. Like the songs Hank Cochran wrote for Patsy Cline. They’re all two verses and a chorus. I’ve always been fascinated by that. You get so many singers-songwriters who’ll write these long rambling songs. I’ve always been the opposite of that.
That minimalist approach also lends itself to your being able to sing these songs like a crooner.
That’s absolutely true. If you get too wordy, you can’t really sing the syllables. Every note has to be a syllable instead of being able to be like George Jones and elongate a word.
This relates back to the Country Noir aspects. Do you think it also adds to the lonesomeness and melancholic feelings in your songwriting?
So much of country music is in the delivery. It’s how you can mimic crying or put pain in every note. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the great country singers — the stylistic aspects of the genre. They were able to bend notes and have different vocal runs. The guy who kind of took that to another level was Lefty Frizzell, right? He made singing into this arcane art form. Other guys like George Jones, Merle [Haggard], whoever, they were highly influenced by Lefty.