Frankie Leonie is a bit of a contradiction.
The Texas singer-songwriter proudly carries the label of country artist … yet she’s inspired by and often mixing in folk, blues and any number of influences. She’s at times reminiscent of Loretta Lynn … but also, First Aid Kit. She reveres country acts from decades gone by and masterfully paints pictures of heartbreak and hardscrabble lives … yet she’s still a teenager. And when you put it all together it works beautifully, bound together tightly by Frankie’s distinctive voice. Simultaneously silky and strong, her voice carries you along through each song, shifting seamlessly from quietly soothing to powerfully booming.
The formula has been refined through steady gigs that have made Frankie somewhat of a fixture on the Dallas scene, and the formula works to perfection on her two new singles – “Johnny Cash” and “Taking All the Good Out of the Bye.” The soulful “Johnny Cash,” inspired by Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose,” features powerful imagery, “Been working double shifts, barely find, the time to pray. I stop to call my momma; she’s getting older by the day.” The song is a slow build, with Frankie’s voice soaring – sometimes sounding like traditional country, sometimes sounding like the perfect indie tune. “The foundation of everything I do is country, and on top of that I just do whatever I want,” Frankie said. “I guess I kind of have an old soul, but I like being creative, too.”
“Taking All the Good Out of the Bye” is a beautiful heart breaker, with Frankie’s voice lilting aching lyrics over a gentle acoustic guitar. It’s tough to imagine such emotion being conveyed so deeply by a teenage artist, one of addiction and loss. But again, that’s where Frankie’s a contradiction.
She may be young, but she’s a veteran performer who’s taken the stage hundreds of times. She’s admittedly a bit tired of the “up-and-coming youngster” story line, but also realizes it’s part of her story. Frankie has played around Texas, in Nashville and in Indiana. She’s a careful observer of humans, making tales of heartbreak and hard livin’ much easier to find. “I think watching other people helps,” she said. “I’m sometimes quiet and I don’t participate in conversation very much, but I’m watching from the outside.”
Frankie seemed headed for a musical career before she could walk. Born in Austin – the epicenter of the Texas music scene and the Live Music Capital of the World – Frankie’s love of music showed up right away. Her parents began taking her along to concerts. Her first was Flogging Molly, when she was an infant, and she remembers more than a few Dale Watson shows.
Before long it was obvious Frankie was a better fit for the stage than the audience. She was singing at church as a child and was always wandering around the house belting out Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Alison Krauss, Jack White and the Pixies.
The first time on stage outside of church that she clearly recalls was when she sang Amy Winehouse’s “Our Day Will Come” at a suburban pub when she was about 10. Today, Frankie plays at least once a week at clubs around Dallas and Fort Worth. She has shared the stage with the likes of the Old 97’s and Nikki Lane. She’s opened for Ray Wiley Hubbard, Lukas Nelson and Margo Price. She’s played at noteworthy Dallas and Nashville clubs, several festivals and in the River Roots Music Series in Indiana.
Frankie’s work is becoming more noticeable among peers, established musicians and critics. The Dallas Observer named her best Country Act for 2018. And she continues to draw comparisons to the artists she has always idolized, including Emmylou Harris and Krauss. “I take it as a compliment,” she said. “Those women are great and have great voices and it wouldn’t be bad to sound like them. I’ll take it.”