Published Apr 18, 2014Given his well-earned reputation as one of the most poetic lyricists in Canadian music, it's a mite surprising that Justin Rutledge would devote an entire album to the work of another artist. Thankfully, his choice was the Tragically Hip, a group led by another of our finest wordsmiths, Gord Downie. By emphasizing melody and atmosphere above the brawny sonic muscularity of the Hip, Rutledge reimagines such Hip favourites as "Grace, Too," "Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)" and "Locked In The Trunk Of A Car" in a genuinely fresh way. The results are immensely pleasurable.
For this project, Rutledge uses different players than the grouping that graced his earlier records. Multi-instrumentalist and album producer Dean Drouillard (Royal Wood), keyboardist Robbie Grunwald, lap steel player Christine Bougie, drummers Sly Juhas and Josh van Tassell and bassist Steve Zsirai all add empathetic accompaniment, as does the star-studded crew of harmony vocalists here: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Andy Maize, Shawn Creamer (The Beauties), Jenn Grant, Julie Fader and Brendan Canning. The under-valued Fader is featured on six songs, while Grant shines on gorgeous elegiac closing cut "Fiddler's Green."
Rutledge's characteristically clear yet oft haunting voice remains the core of the record, and it is in top form here. Removing the rock aspects of these Hip songs enables a closer inspection of Downie's lyrics, and their poetic strength definitely withstands the scrutiny. Many hardcore Hip heads may find this too mellow and cerebral, but, conversely, those not enamoured of that band's signature sound could find something of real value here. (Outside)