JUSTIN RUTLEDGE: No Never Alone[Excerpt from "COMES WITH A SMILE, VOL. 14" - THE UK's #1 MUSIC REVIEW: http://www.ComesWithASmile.com]:
As I see it, Ryan Adams is in grave danger... from himself... if his alleged narcotic intake is to be believed; from his continuing screw-loose behaviour now reported as widely in tabloid gossip columns as music publications, and from his arrogance that his fans will continue to take this sort of shit â€“ particularly when there has been very little to tag essential since "Gold". His high productivity has become a burden of expectancy, but the combined content of the last four releases amount to less than half the substance of Heartbreaker or Strangers Almanac.
Yes, the pack is circling, and it is tasting blood. Young Torontonian - JUSTIN RUTLEDGE - is a most capable usurper with exactly the right equipment. And he looks the most-likely from where I stand.
Remember when you first heard Heartbreaker? Did you, like me, scarcely comprehend the wonders of those songs, and how, when you thought youâ€™d heard it all in the roots rock sphere, anyone could come up with something like it? Rutledge's - "No Never Alone" - will evoke those feelings in you again, but I guarantee an even harder emotional punch from this cripplingly beautiful record. The key here is an approach sadly missing from Mr. Adamsâ€™ more recent work, and that is subtlety. It is the measured delivery of Lambchop-like grace and skill by Rutledge and the 19 other musicians that populate this 50 minutes of stately wonder; the ease of interpretation and crisp, airy production (from the artist and Glen Salley) that are the keys to this being labelled with confidence as â€˜instant classicâ€™. Those factors, plus some of the best country songs youâ€™ll ever hear, and a voice of rare expression, that is.
Just 20 seconds into opener, "Too Sober To Sleep", and it is apparent that this is looking like it could be a bit special. It really is that instant. A gentle acoustic guitar figure ushers in a yearning, vulnerable voice, and a dreamy, perfect country heartbreaker sobs all over you. The pace of - "No Never Alone" - has been immediately dictated, and it just keeps on getting lovelier from thereon in.
The sweet, soft but strong voice of this man is perhaps what will win over most, but the support he receives here [from the reclusive pipes of Mary Margaret Oâ€™Hara amongst many gifted musicians] is expertly gorgeous. You would travel a long way, even within Nashvilleâ€™s city limits, to hear a more pinging, gliding pedal-steel than that of Burke Carroll, or a more delicately stroked piano keyboard than here in the hands of Doug Dyson and Tom Howell. The formers' work on the unfeasible ache that is "Federal Mail" is minimal but devastating, recalling Tony Crow on "Is A Woman", or most everything on "The Boatmanâ€™s Call".
That, the self-penned gospel sway-along "Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus" and "The Suffering of Pepe Oâ€™Malley Part III" [the only number at above-funereal-pace, where you notice for the first time that there are actually drums present on the album] serve as - "No Never Alone"'s - signature pieces, but it is simply spellbinding throughout. It has everything that a great, downbeat country record should have, alt or otherwise. You want pedal-steel, banjo, fiddles, acoustic guitars, a voice that cracks and croaks at all the right times, and the miserable lyrical likes of "God damn my liver when itâ€™s thirsty / God damn my wallet when itâ€™s dry", then you will find it here in abundance.
What this record doesnâ€™t do is rock, but the most affecting country music has always been the sad shit. - No Never Alone - sways, nods and weeps, full of drama and reflection on what might have been, but, as I am prone to say, this is no hoedown. What it is, however, is near perfect, and possessed of that warm familiarity of songs youâ€™ve never heard before, just like any classics tend to. A major new talent has landed, then, and so the complacent should watch their backs. The question is can Justin Rutledge keep this up? With the promise loaded into this astounding debut, itâ€™s difficult to conceive that he wonâ€™t, and my bet is that this is one guy that wonâ€™t blow it.
COMES WITH A SMILE, VOL.14
MUSIC REVUE AUTHOR: TOM SHERIFF
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1. Too Sober To Sleep
2. A Letter To Heather
4. Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus
5. Sleeveless In Vancouver
6. Year Of Jubilo
7. Federal Mail
9. The Suffering Of Pep O'Malley [Pt. III]
10. The Blackest Crow