"Feel like a problem, feel like a smoker's cough/ Thumbing my way from town to town, trying to shake it off."
On his seventh record in nine years, Americana wunderkind Jerry Leger sounds nearly as wizened as a late-career troubadour. And yet, at 29 years of age, the truth is that the Toronto native's only getting started. Signs are everywhere on this terrific new album, his best yet, that his already impressive knack for songcraft is evolving, maturing into something remarkable. A few missteps aside, it's almost there. What we hear on Early Riser is the sound of a good singer-songwriter making the leap into great territory, and mostly sticking the landing.
The eight songs between noir-soaked opener "Factory Made" and the wistful, affirming title track range from blues workouts ("She Ain't My Woman") to effortless country ("Cashing In") to rousing gospel-tinged soul ("To Let Me Go"). Throughout, Leger infuses these old forms with new blood; his tight band (The Situation) pulls us in, but his thoughtful, wise lyrics are the glue that keeps us there. Leger's high, brittle voice — think Mark Olson of the Jayhawks crossed with a young Rodney Crowell — is the perfect conduit for these lonesome stories and heartfelt pleas.
Credit should go to producer Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), whose ear for rich melody and honest vocals is legendary in Canada's roots music circles (and beyond), for finding just the right sonic landscape for Leger's songs. After all, this is the man who, back in 1992, helped introduce a pretty obscure Texas singer-songwriter named Townes Van Zandt to Canadian audiences. Timmins knows singer-songwriters, is what I'm saying. In Leger, he's found one of Canada's best.
Read our recent interview with Leger here. (Latent)