“If there is an overall arc that links these songs, it’s that I am trying to connect in a way that I never have before,” singer-songwriter Mac Leaphart says of Music City Joke, out today. The 10-song collection vacillates between high-energy tales that would be at home on any dancehall stage to wry examinations of the human condition — though Leaphart’s detailed writing style equally weaves throughout the more rollicking tracks on the album just the same.
“I’m a journeyman musician who spent a decade on the Southeastern bar band scene before settling in Nashville,” Leaphart explains. “I moved here with the idea of writing some of those big hits you hear on country radio; it wasn't too long before I realized there's a lot more that goes into writing a smash hit than just great songwriting, and I wasn't chuckling at Nashville anymore. The joke was on me. I peeled the ‘kick me’ sign off my back and got down to focusing on my own songwriting like never before–writing late at night and performing at writers’ rounds to see what stuck and what didn’t. And here it is: the song, the album...and the punchline.”
Music City Joke offers Leaphart’s strongest batch of songs to date: wry, rugged, and recharged, he’s singing songs that conjure up memories of front porches, honky tonks, heartbreaks, and dive bars. Produced by Brad Jones (Hayes Carll), Music City Joke is a rallying cry from an artist who has spent more than a decade paying his dues and whittling his craft, joined by a team of longtime Nashville staples, including Fats Kaplin, Will Kimbrough, and Matt Menefee, as the soundtrack to his lyric-driven, story-based songwriting.
The album kicks off with a reimagined version of “El Paso Kid,” which originally appeared on Leaphart’s 2015 release, Low in the Saddle, Long in the Tooth. “Blame on the Bottle,” inspired by a preacher on the left end of the radio dial, examines both self-will and self-righteousness just the same.
The rollicking “Honey, Shake” is the purest example of Leaphart’s Southern rock-inspired upbringing, to which The Boot advised listeners to ”put on your dancin' shoes…"Honey, Shake” will have you ready to groove."
“Ballad of Bob Yamaha or A Simple Plea in C Major” is a nod to Shel Silverstein and a shining example of Leaphart’s dedication to smartly written songs from the perspective of a weathered guitar that just wants to be played by someone who really knows their way up and down the frets. Inspired by Leaphart’s move from the South Carolina Lowcountry to Nashville, the album’s title track, “Music City Joke,” is a reckoning of expectations and reality.
“That Train” continues to showcase Leaphart’s signature style – mixing twang, tempo, and tightly-constructed lyrics into the same package, with American Songwriter noting its “clever bundling of nostalgic allusions and raw honky-tonk harmonies."
“Window from the Sky” offers a stripped-down take on how much good a change in perspective can do. “Every Day” is a look into the dynamics of a relationship, while “Division Street” laments a tiny, shared apartment, close living spaces, and the eye-opening experience of living inside “the party house.”
Before earning his stripes as a road warrior, Leaphart launched his career in South Carolina, where he balanced a nighttime gig as a bartender with a steadily-increasing stream of shows. Leaphart’s first album, Line, Rope, Etc., was released in 2009 and a few years later, in 2012, he took his signature sound with him to Nashville. There, he has launched a popular recurring songwriter's night called Southpaw Social Club and strengthened his own writing chops, penning songs for other artists' albums as well as his own. Low in the Saddle, Long in the Tooth arrived in 2015, followed by Lightning Bob – featuring collaborations with Sadler Vaden – in 2018.
Leaphart — now a husband and father — received a reviving kickstart later that year when he was named a winner of the prestigious Grassy Hill Kerrville New Folk Competition.