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There’s something particularly compelling about natural talent seasoned with life experience, and it’s that potent combination that makes veteran country chanteuse Danni Leigh’s latest album Walkin’ on a Wire so listenable.


Leigh co-wrote each of the 11 songs on her new collection, a sonically diverse and emotionally satisfying journey through love, loss and life’s most complicated moments. “It was 100% up to me to decide which songs to put on this record,” Leigh says of the freedom she has in her new deal with Audium Nashville/BFD. “That is a little nerve racking, but I believe in all of these songs and I’m 100% happy. These are all my choices.”


Walkin’ on a Wire represents two significant firsts for the Virginia native. “I’m a writer on all of the songs and that’s a first,” she says with a smile. “This is also the first time I’ve made a collection of music with the band that I perform live with.  We added a few other musicians, but the base of this recording is my guys in Europe. We started this recording over there at the end of a bunch of shows that we did all over Europe. We ended that visit with going in the studio in a small town.”


Leigh previously lived in Spain for five years so it’s no surprise she recruited ace European musicians to craft her new project, including Dima Faustov, a saxophone player from the Ukraine, who played on “You’re Gonna Lose Him.” “We texted to ask if he and his family were ok, and we didn’t expect to hear anything back from him,” she says, her voice quivering with emotion. “He texted right back and said, ‘I’m safe. My family is safe, however, we are in a bomb shelter.’  He played that song in the bomb shelter for people and said, ‘Just for a moment we had a peaceful moment where whoever was around me was listening and it was incredible.’ This is so not important for what is happening in his world right now, but we sent it and he was so happy that we did.”  


Leigh and her husband, Mike McKenzie, put the finishing touches on the album at their home studio in Strasburg, VA. She and her family currently reside in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley where she grew up and first began dreaming of a career that would carry her music all over the world. “Growing up around here, I was a little rebellious. I was outspoken,” she says. “I played sports and was in the band, but always sang.  I grew up in Lutheran church and sang in talent shows and at church with the choir.”


Leigh’s striking looks and talent made her a natural for beauty pageants where she honed her musical skills and developed a natural ease in front of an audience. “I was always singing everywhere I could. I moved away and started playing in bands and then ended up getting in the Artimus Pyle Band,” she says of touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s famed drummer. “I was 19 or 20. I was a backup singer and dancing around on stage. It was amazing.  Those were such good times.”


Like many aspiring country artists, she moved to Nashville and landed a job as a waitress at the Bluebird Café. It wound up being a master class in songwriting as she soaked up performances by Music City’s top tunesmiths. “I really learned so much being there, and I met Michael Knox, the guy that gave me my first shot and we’re still very good friends,” she says. “He signed me to a writer/artist deal at Warner Chappell Music and started getting me into sessions with writers that were very well established in the songwriting community. I learned a lot.  I basically went to school.”


That education paid off and she started getting cuts by artists like Tracy Byrd and landed her own record deal with Decca Records, releasing singles such as “29 Nights” and “If the Jukebox Took Teardrops.”  Her time on Decca proved short lived when the label closed but Leigh went on to sign with Monument Records and continued gaining momentum with the singles “A Shot of Whisky and a Prayer” and “Honey I Do.” A stint on Audium yielded “Sometimes,” “House of Pain” and “Last Train to San Antone.” 


While cultivating a U.S. fan base, Leigh made the leap to the international market and earned fans in Europe, Korea, Brazil and Japan. “Europe started early on for me and there’s a lady who has taken me all over the world,” she says of booking agent Judy Seale. “She started getting me shows in other parts of the world because of my music videos which were airing on CMT International. That International division did wonders for me. I got to go places I’d never dreamed I’d be performing. Audiences overseas tend to like the traditional stuff and that’s what has kept me going.  People like the rootsy traditional sounds and I think they appreciate that in my music.”


Marriage and the birth of her son shifted her priorities, and it’s been more than a decade Leigh recorded and released new music. Walkin’ on a Wire marks Leigh’s return, and she’s excited about the songs on this new collection.  The first single, “My Arms Stay Open all Night,” was written with country legend Melba Montgomery and the song’s intro features Montgomery in a candid recording from their co-writing session. “I wrote that song with my hero,” Leigh says, admitting she was nervous at first, but Montgomery made her feel at ease. “I had a blast and it’s probably my favorite writing session. I really appreciate the gravity of her as a country music artist and a songwriter and everything that she’s contributed to this genre.  That was a special day for me and a writing session that I’ll never forget.”


“Steel Rails” is a rollicking up tempo salute to her grandfather that showcases the warmth and sass in her distinctive vocals. “I love that song.  We wrote that one when we were in Spain,” she says. “In the second verse where I sing, ‘He grew old just believing that death would never find a rambling man,’ that line is about my truck driving grandfather.  He spent his whole life as a truck driver, running up and down the road and when he got too old to haul, he started escorting wide loads. He was a gypsy too so that’s kind of where it all starts.  When I sing that verse, I see him.”


Leigh says the title track feels apropos for these turbulent times. “‘Walking On A Wire’ is a good image of how I feel navigating the world right now,” she says. “That’s why I chose it for this record because it feels like with the pandemic and everything that is going on in the world right now. The song itself is talking about a relationship that is a little rocky.  I don’t feel that way about my husband of course, it’s more like the visual of walking on a wire in the world really.” 


“Pain of Surrender” is a horn-laced song that Leigh says is reminiscent of some of her classic country heroes. “We found those trumpet players in Mexico,” she says. “When I hear them, I think of Marty Robbins every time.  I love the old western story songs like that Marty used to do.  That song is me paying homage to all that.”


Years of honing her songwriting, performing and production skills coalesce for Leigh with Walkin’ on a Wire. “I learned too not to go too crazy,” she says with a warm laugh. “Less is more and I think that you hear that on this record.  We didn’t pile on a whole bunch of stuff.  The instruments breathe. They make poignant statements themselves. I’m not trying to over sing anything or prove a point or be anybody except myself, and that’s what this is to me.  I’m real proud of it.  I hope people like it.” 

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