You can feel Sonia Leigh’s story throughout “1978 December,” her soulful, deep country debut. She wrote eight of these songs on her own and the other two (“If You Won’t Tell” and “Roaming”) with Zac Brown, who guests on the latter, ska-seasoned cut. Her raw, stripped-down delivery makes each lyric feel urgent, personal and real.
Leigh’s ears were wide open even at age 4, when she responded to a song at a Loretta Lynn concert by shouting, “Now, that’s country, Dad!” — a portent, perhaps, of Leigh’s future working as many as three jobs, dealing with her parents’ divorce, traveling with her father as he pursued odd jobs on the road and eventually striking out on her own at 17.
She’d gotten a good head start. A song she’d written at 14 prompted a management deal three years later. While burning up the club circuit in Atlanta, Leigh befriended another local up-and-comer, Zac Brown. When she cut an indie album, “Run or Surrender,” Zac Brown Band bassist John Driskell Hopkins served as producer. And after Brown signed her to his Southern Ground Artists label, he and Matt Mangano co-produced, along with Clay Cook and Hopkins.
Backed by what sounds like a tight, gig-toughened bar band, Leigh belts the up-tempo songs with a full-throated, Southern-tinged rasp on the first single, “My Name Is Money,” a sly paean to what a fully-loaded bankroll can buy. With similar conviction she recounts lessons learned from the death of a close friend (“Ain’t Dead Yet”), the comforts of “jumping off this wagon” (“Bar”) and, on the other tracks, the beauties hidden within the rougher rites of life.
In her own words
“I have so many! Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Sean Costello, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn …”
CD IN YOUR STEREO
“I only have a record player. I think Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Bark at the Moon’ is on the table right now.”
BOOK ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND
“Steven Tyler’s ‘Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir.’”
“Messy cooks — or putting a plate in the fridge uncovered with a fork. That is so gross!”
SOMETHING WE’D NEVER GUESS ABOUT YOU
“I never feel like I am good enough. And I am a huge Tupac fan!”