Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay
Gig Seeker Pro

Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay

Austin, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Austin, Texas, United States
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Americana Country


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"New Style, Old School for Co-ed Country Duo"

Austin singer-songwriters Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay resuscitate the nearly lost art of the co-ed country duet on their new release. It's a travelogue of love and dysfunction that tips its hat to the past while remaining grounded in the present.

"Before the World Was Made" (B&N Records) is a witty, heartfelt record of dusty barroom shuffles, sassy two-steps and ethereal country-folk. It's informed by the vintage duets of George Jones and Melba Montgomery, as well as the more modern pairing of John Prine and Iris DeMent.

Funny as some of their songs are, Leigh and McKay never fall into parody. They are not here to mock country tradition.

"We take it very seriously," says Leigh. "You can tell when someone doesn't respect country, when they treat it more as a novelty or joke. It's not that to us. It's very intelligent music."

McKay concurs. "We have a lot of respect for country music. We're not doing it in irony at all."

"Before the World Was Made" is Leigh and McKay's first duo collaboration. Both have solo careers and are ace songwriters. McKay was frontman for the Texas band the McKay Brothers, and co-wrote the track "El Coyote" on Guy Clark's acclaimed new release "My Favorite Picture of You." Leigh has had her songs cut by country singers Lee Ann Womack and Sunny Sweeney.

Combining their talents, Leigh and McKay have found firm footing as a duo act. The men and women who inhabit their songs run the gamut of relationship scenarios. The loving couple in "Let's Don't Get Married" take a pass on tying the knot. Burned by past experiences, they see the institution of marriage as a threat to their perfect union. Elsewhere on the album, two needy people partner up in "Be My Ball and Chain," filling in each other's gaps and learning to compromise along the way.

Then there are those narrators duct taping their ragged relationships together. The on-again, off-again couple of "Breaking Up and Making Up Again" explains its loopy logic: "It'll be like we just met / not tired of each other yet / let's try breaking up and making up again."

Leigh and McKay are a real-life couple themselves, but are quick to point out that they aren't writing about their own relationship.

"The songs aren't necessarily autobiographical," laughs McKay. "Most of them aren't. But they are based on our observations of real people and real life relationships."

He points to "Breaking Up and Making Up Again" as an example. The song gives voice to the classic dynamic of a couple that can't live with or without each other. "It's about some dear friends of ours who couldn't break up and couldn't stay together," says Leigh. "It was just comical, but it was also like watching a horrible car wreck."

"We cared about these people and we didn't want to see them hurt each other anymore," says McKay.

The sly and sing-songy "Let's Go To Lubbock On Vacation" trumpets the Texas city as a getaway destination for a down-home couple. "It's easy to go to Paris or some beautiful beach somewhere and feel that you're in love," says Leigh. "But to go somewhere that's a little less decadent — that's for the real-deal couples."

McKay spent some of his formative years in Lubbock, the birthplace of Buddy Holly and a city that has been home to such Lone Star greats as Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely. "Lubbockites have the tendency to poke fun at themselves, but it's a really lovely place in its own way," McKay says.

The album was produced by Gurf Morlix, who first came to prominence as a guitar player and producer for Lucinda Williams. Morlix has carved out a career as a solo artist and an estimable producer of such Americana acts as Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Slaid Cleaves.

Morlix didn't need any coaxing to get onboard as the producer of "Before the World Was Made." He was drawn by the strength of Leigh and McKay's original material. "On top of being extremely fine human beings who can both play guitar and sing really well, it's the writing," says Morlix. "These songs are really sophisticated."

The producer had first worked with McKay in 2003 on a McKay Brothers album. He saw promise in McKay's writing skills back then. "Noel was just starting to become a really good songwriter," Morlix recalls. "I saw it coming. Then he hooked up with Brennen, who is fantastically talented. They became a couple and everybody was so pleased about that. They started writing and singing these songs together. This duet thing is really special."

When it came to the duo's debut album, Morlix kept the production aesthetic simple and direct: emphasize the vocals and lyrics, frame the songs and stay out of the way. Several of the tracks are delicate and spare. Leigh and McKay's yearning voices mirror one another throughout the title track. Morlix likens the muted beat of the love song "Soft Guitars" to "the sound of bare feet on pine needles in the forest."

"My brain is kind of wired for lots of space," Morlix says. "Sometimes a sonic squall is called for and I can do that. But these songs were just crying out for space from me."

The album closes with the touching "Great Big Oldsmobile." Against a warmly plucked acoustic guitar and elegant touches of dreamy steel, a couple vows to love each other into the infirmities of old age. It's a wry and tender tune that draws this compelling song-cycle of love to a close.

"It's not all gonna be perfect," says Leigh about the relationships depicted in the songs. "I think that's the message of the whole record. This stuff is imperfect. If I ever heard a love song that made it sound like it was perfect, it wasn't entirely convincing."

Twitter @chitribent - Chicago Tribune

"Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay's "Before the World Was Made""

Gone are the days of the legendary duet pairings in country music like George and Tammy, Loretta and Conway, right? Well they may not boast beehive doos or lamb chops, or grace the stage of the CMA Awards or come beaming into your home or buggy via the miracle of Clear Channel radio, but the Austin country scene’s power couple of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay have revitalized the country duet concept album in a smart, brilliant, hilarious, and sweet offering called Before The World Was Made.

You’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re in the mood for sappy sonnets serenading the human love quotient. This is a love album for lovers who hate each other, and love each other all the same. It’s not that sentimentality doesn’t show its face here, but just like the real world, Before The World Was Made is not afraid to delve into the turbulence of love, to tickle the funny bone, and to tell it like it is.

brennen-leigh-noel-mckay-before-the-world-was-madeThis album is the perfect soundtrack to an “it’s complicated” relationship status, with ingenious songs like “Breaking Up Is Easy,” “Breaking Up and Making Up Again,” “Be My Ball and Chain,” and “Let’s Don’t Get Married.” Yes, it sounds like a gloomy outlook, but underlying every song of this “on again, off again” album is a sweet love story that you can’t help believing mirrors Brennen Leigh’s and Noel McKay’s real-life narrative.

You can relate to their silly little squabbles and how they plot to resolve them with a positive ending. The way these songs work is both classic and fresh. Even walking in to Before The World Was Made with a deep appreciation for the songwriting chops of both parties, you are still perplexed at how Brennen and Noel wrote this entire album themselves, simply from the strength and the “instant classic” caliber of these songs.

Even the more straightforward love songs like “The Only Person In The Room” and “Salty Kisses In The Sand” are so fresh and clever, they fit right in to the cunning style of this record. “Let’s Go To Lubbock on Vacation” is downright side-splitting (sorry Lubbock readers), while still at its core being a nectarous little love story.

Before The World Was Made doesn’t let up for one moment, and it’s not just all about the words. The album is bolstered by tasteful, classic country arrangements, edified by producer extraordinaire Gurf Morlix. This is a neo-traditional country album at its heart, and the music offers tasty accompaniment to these high-caliber compositions.

Can’t say enough about Brennen, Noel, and Before The World Was Made. They may not be willing to commit to each other, but the music they make together is definitely a keeper.

Two guns up. - Saving Country Music

"Leigh and McKay offer Romance with a Little Wink"

Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay stare lovingly at each other on the cover of "Before the World Was Made," a duets album steeped in traditional country. But there's also a hint of humor in their eyes, a sense of mischief that also permeates the record.

"We like humor. There's a lot of tragedy in it, too, and I think that's part of what makes it funny," Leigh says.

"At a certain point, if it's all lovey-dovey, people are just going to roll their eyes at it," McKay adds. "You have to mix it up and make it interesting. It just sort of came together that way."

"Before the World Was Made" is a fine, focused collection in the hallowed tradition of George and Tammy, Johnny and June, Conway and Loretta, George and Melba (Montgomery). The Austin-based duo, also a couple offstage, says the album was born "by popular demand" from fans who asked for recordings of the songs they heard at shows.

"We never made a record together, so we were playing music for you in sin," Leigh says. "We had this more organized career plan. I was going to make a solo record. Noel was going to make another solo record. We were writing together so much that it became kind of stupid that we didn't have a record together."

Leigh has released several well-received albums, including 2010's "The Box" and 2007's "Holdin' Our Own" with Beaumont native Jesse Dayton. McKay and brother Hollin enjoyed regional success as the McKay Brothers. Leigh and McKay met in Austin in 2002 when they were double-booked for a gig. Eventually, Leigh began playing mandolin with the McKay Brothers. Writing together seemed like a natural step.

"It just really does work. It's hard to pinpoint why," McKay says. "There are some superficial reasons that you could look at. We both came from family bands. But I really trust Brennen. I trust that she's going to make the best decision for herself and for what we're doing.

The album's wistful title comes from a poem by W.B. Yeats. Leigh and McKay constructed the moon and stars set featured on the cover themselves. (It's currently sitting in their house after they decided against hauling it out to a few release parties.)

"We had to work really hard to get this record made," McKay says. "We made a five-song EP at home and sold it for $10 a pop and saved the money to pay for this record. We really put our minds and backs into the whole thing."

Gurf Morlix, whose credits include Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen, produced the record with a sure, sensitive hand. He frames Leigh and McKay beautifully but also stays out of their way. Leigh has always had an uncanny ability to make her work seem instantly familiar, and McKay has the same gift.

The synergy and chemistry is apparent from opening track "The Only Other Person in the Room," a lilting exchange between performers in a crowded club. Much of the album is wry and romantic, from "Let's Go to Lubbock on Vacation" to "Let's Don't Get Married." And "Great Big Oldsmobile" is unabashedly sweet and sincere. ("You'll still steam my glasses up when I'm 92.")

"It's a lot of harmony around here. It would probably drive people crazy," McKay says.

"We share a vehicle. We mostly eat the same things. I think it makes it easier instead of harder," Leigh adds. "I think we drive people crazy. I'm sure we do." - Houston Chronicle

"New Artist Spotlight: Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay"

By Bob Doerschuk

© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Before the World Was Made is a delicious mix: raw, retro Country plus sweet irony. That’s apparently the specialty of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, the Austin-based duo whose debut, on their B&N imprint, is hilarious, sentimental and profound, usually all at the same time.

Produced by Gurf Murlix, with only one of its 12 tracks penned by an outside writer, this album draws from Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, the Louvin Brothers and, perhaps unconsciously, Nichols and May. Backed by a bare-bones band that consists of a drummer playing mainly snare, an acoustic bassist and occasional guests, they ponder love’s absurdities. A theme emerges in their titles alone. “Breaking Up Is Easy” is followed by “Breaking Up and Making Up Again,” in which McKay intones, “I forgot that you’re a bore,” and Leigh responds, “And I forgot how loud you snore,” both singing with a delightfully flat, deadpan delivery.

And who could resist the wisdom of “Let’s Go to Lubbock on Vacation,” which reasons that if they survive a week or so there, they’ll know they’re in love? Or “The Only Other Person in the Room,” a forlorn pickup song involving the last two folks in the honky-tonk at closing time?

But then they close with “Great Big Oldsmobile,” an unexpectedly touching pledge of lifelong adoration. “I’ll be deafer than a post and grayer than a ghost, but you’ll still steam my glasses up when you’re 92,” McKay promises — and we believe him.

For more on Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, visit



BRENNEN: “Jim Lauderdale.”

NOEL: “Guy Clark.”


BOTH: “Guy Clark’s My Favorite Picture of You.”


BRENNEN: “Melba Montgomery.”

NOEL: “I sing with my dream duet partner nearly every night.”


BRENNEN: “Everything.”

NOEL: “Tailgating.”


BOTH: “Train!”


BRENNEN: “Jackie Chan.”

NOEL: “Brigitte Bardot, of course.”


BRENNEN: “Getting to play mandolin and sing with Charlie Louvin.”


NOEL: “Peanut butter and strawberry sandwiches that Brennen makes while I’m driving.”

On the Web:

On Twitter: @BrennenLeigh; @McKayNoel - CMA Close Up


Before the World Was Made, 2013


Feeling a bit camera shy


Please visit our website to read our bio.  Thanks!

Band Members