On Nonsense and Heartache, Jerry Leger sounds every bit like the road-weary troubadour, facing down the highway fork between folk and blues, that's he's surely aspiring to be. The Toronto songsmith's new release features the fantastic fiddle work of multi-instrumentalist James McKie and the deft rhythm section interplay of bassist Dan Mock and drummer Kyle Sullivan, not to mention the sweet singing of guest Angie Hilts.
It's an ambitious, sprawling double album, with the Nonsense side being more bluesy, aggressive and plugged in, while the Heartache half is more acoustic and tender. Throughout both sides, however, Leger reaches for timeless tones while also making clear homages to influences of specific eras.
For instance, "Coat on the Rack" kicks off the album with Muddy Waters-worthy snarling guitars. It's also a showcase for Leger's Bob Dylan-circa-Desire vocal delivery, as he sings about how "Man fought for justice / Forgot what it was / Wars and money and power / And outlaws." Before the chorus even kicks in, it's clear that Leger is as enthused a student of Americana as good ol' Bobby Zimmerman was.
"Wedding Dress" is even more Dylan-esque, thanks to its mysterious, opaque tone and more subdued, folksy instrumentation compared to many of the album's bluesier numbers. However, Leger never succumbs to shallow mimicry of Dylan's elaborate lyricism on the tune. Instead, he stays true to his own direct style, which makes the poetic moments here all the more poignant, especially lines like, "We were lit up like a country fair."
Same goes for the hushed "It Don't Make the Wrong Go Away," in which he depicts a man fishing in his pocket for "keys to another time and place," before describing the "damp chill" that makes him "shiver," and the stillness that takes "its toll." That song's faint acoustic strumming and brief electric guitar solo serve as the only accompaniment to Leger's vocals, another testament to the songwriter's mastery of minimalism.
There is no shortage of elaborate artistry on this double LP, either, especially on songs like "She's the Best Writer You've Never Heard Of," which has writhing electric guitar notes that tangle and unspool like duelling serpents. Leger furthers that restless tone by shouting, to the point of ripping his vocal chords raw, about the woman alluded to in the title.
That song is jarringly followed by the more sweetly melodic "Things Are Changing 'Round Here," which has weeping slide guitar and a trotting tempo that's perfect for a quarrelling couple's make-up waltz. Its tender musical tone is sharply contrasted by more hopeless lyrics about Leger being "here today and gone again" and how things are changing in the protagonist's troubled household.
With this double album, Leger hits a wide array of points on the Americana spectrum, and the chemistry between him and him and his backing band is combustible. There's something for folk fans of all stripes on this big collection of songs, and though the second side's moving ballads were my favourite, it's clear that Nonsense and Heartache is a no-nonsense affair though and through. (Latent)