Justin Rutledge The Early Widows

Justin Rutledge The Early Widows
Rutledge's reputation as our most literate songsmith will only be enhanced by this, his fourth album. Having Can-lit giant Michael Ondaatje on board as a co-writer (powerfully dramatic lead track "Be A Man") will do that. Another valuable addition to Rutledge's camp is producer Hawksley Workman, whose conceptual skills are put to fine use. The result is a more varied and vigorous record than previous effort Man Descending. For instance, the seemingly unlikely juxtaposition of full-blooded gospel voices (the Faith Choral) with Rutledge's signature gentle melancholy on tracks like "Heart Of A River," the epic "Carry On" and "Be A Man" works well. There's greater focus on electric guitar, twin drummers are used judiciously, Oh Susanna and Julie Fader add harmony vocals, and Rutledge's core band (David Baxter, Bazil Donovan, Burke Carroll and Blake Manning) are in fine form. Rutledge is at the very top of his game, vocally and lyrically, and he is unafraid of waxing poetic ("We want you on beds of burnished silver beneath the buckling of the rafters"). To use a literary metaphor, this isn't airport or beach reading; it's a serious work that will reward your close scrutiny.

What did Hawksley Workman bring to the album?
Four decisions he made were core ingredients to the sound of the album. He wanted to use the gospel choir, two drummers, Jesse Zubot and he told me to get an electric guitar. Those relatively small decisions affected the whole sound. We'd talked about working together earlier, but I'm glad we didn't, because working on this material was the ideal opportunity. It was a real pleasure working with him.

Tell us about working with Michael Ondaatje
Before I went into the studio, I brought Michael six songs that I was unsure of structurally. I went over to his house, played them for him and he helped me structure them, lyrically. It was about his looking at the lyrics from a poetic standpoint. On one song, "Be A Man," I was having trouble with a couple of lines and he filled in the blanks for me. I don't think he had previous songwriting experience, but it was as if he'd done this his whole life. It was the easiest co-writing session I've been in. It was nice to have him involved and to know I can work with someone of that stature. It gives a sense of validation and justification for what I do. (Six Shooter)