Before patching up the old trailer in West Tennessee, grass
grew through cracks on the floor and copperheads mingled between decades of
stacked boxes on a grandfather’s hand-me-down farm. It was in this abandoned
singlewide that Americana artist Joseph LeMay cleared a space for his new life
as a married man and Seventeen Acres,
his first full-length release.
LeMay began performing at an age when most kids are focused
on learning the alphabet. Just barely a teen, the young musician could add Showtime
at the Apollo, an opening gig for Brian Wilson and a countless line of county
fairs across the southeast to his list of growing accomplishments. This passion
for music continued to manifest during high school as LeMay took to writing and
moved to New York in search of work as a performer.
During his time in Manhattan, LeMay’s musical future bent
when he met music veteran Charlie Peacock, producer of The Civil Wars and The
Lone Bellow. LeMay moved to Nashville and spent hours as a silent observer of
Peacock as artists passed through his studio. Witnessing the life of a working
musician changed LeMay, inspiring him to find his voice.
But it wasn’t long before LeMay found himself in an age-old
Nashville ritual- working a part-time job to pay the bills and creating on the
side. “After making sandwiches for 60 hours a week, it’s hard to find the
energy and time to do the work you want,” says LeMay. To escape the inevitable
pace their life was heading, LeMay and his new wife made a drastic change of
scenery and moved into that forgotten trailer on her family’s inherited farm on
the outskirts of Dyersburg, Tenn.
“It was like sitting under a magnifying glass,” says LeMay
of the isolation of rural Tennessee. “I was constantly alone and in a period of
self-doubt. I was worrying how I would measure up as new husband, more or less
thrown out in the wilderness.” The intensity of his self-examination led to
what we now know as Seventeen Acres.
Filled with stories of dissecting the nuances of love and
uncertainty, Seventeen Acres was
produced by LeMay himself and came to life in the same space the stories
originated. Songs like “Fruit on the Vine” and “Warrant for My Worry” ache with
missed expectations and hope in their draught, while “Molly My Girl” and “Just
So” are timeless tales of endearing love. Start to finish, LeMay’s labor is
driven by this love and all the desperation, fear and commitment that comes
“Music fulfills a need,” says LeMay. “It’s communicating
across mediums. We don’t just want words. It’s the color and the canvas. The
cadence and the lyric.” It’s with a balanced grasp of bare truth and pursuit of
grace that LeMay channels this primal need in the desolation of his Seventeen Acres.