Those familiar with the LeDoux family name probably won’t be surprised to hear Ned LeDoux carry on the legacy of his late father, Chris LeDoux, on newest album Buckskin. And though I can’t exactly say I ever related to those old songs about the rodeo or cowboy ways of life, I always enjoyed them and have been excited to watch Ned revive and honor that tradition ever since 2017’s Sagebrush.
And for the most part, if you know what to expect, Buckskin is a solidly likable, consistent listen from start to finish, building on the country-rock foundation that’s also characterized the family name and pairing it with songs that, perhaps because of recent years, feel more upbeat and celebratory as a whole. I can’t lie – part of me likes it a bit better when this album leans on heavier grooves or riffs to craft something with a bit more urgency or edge, like the fantastic road warrior ramblings against the blast of harmonica on “Open Road” or the cover of Chris’ “He Rides the Wild Horses” that carries a bit of danger and mystique behind that huge chorus and hook.
But I also get that that’s not what this album is aiming for in setting or mood. It’s a lightweight album meant to be a solid, fun listen as a whole, and that’s OK too, especially when something like “Upside of the Ground” can find a happy balance between the two. Ned isn’t quite the smoothest performer in the world, and his flow can be a bit choppy at points, but he’s got a likable charm that makes both the perseverance of faith on “The Mountain” and the thankfulness of where he’s at in life on “Only Need One” come across as surprisingly sincere. And it helps that the overall production and instrumentation still retains a crispness to it that works to find a balance between neotraditional tones, western-swing, and country-rock, even if that riff on “Cards in San Antone” sounds a bit wonky.
And yeah, content-wise, there’s not much to dive into or any deeper stakes behind the bulk of the material (there’s a song here literally just called “Hey Hey,” though it’s a bit better than one would think), but it’s also easy to tell that Ned is still finding a way to embrace his father’s style without directly imitating it, especially when “He Rides the Wild Horses” is the lone cover of his here and blends in well regardless with the rest of the album – and the title track acts as something of a prelude to it. And I’d argue he mostly gets there, even if the slew of cowboy songs toward the end feel more like pandering character portraits rather than exercises in storytelling, even if I do think the tribute to his father on “Damn Good Cowboy” is pretty sweet. I’d actually argue that the more straightforward road warrior songs are the best of the bunch here, from “Open Road” to the hilarious ramblings of “Cards in San Antone” and the likable hook-up track in “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” that’s got some humorous self-awareness to it. All in all, another solid entry from Ned, and arguably his most consistent release yet.
- Favorite tracks: “Open Road,” “He Rides the Wild Horses,” “Only Need One,” “Upside of the Ground,” “Cards in San Antone”
- Least favorite track: “Rodeo Dreams”