Published Sep 21, 2016The title of East refers to the fact that this is the first album recorded by rootsy Juno-winning troubadour Justin Rutledge outside his home province of Ontario. Seeking a change of environment, he set up shop with producer Daniel Ledwell (Jenn Grant) in the latter's Nova Scotia studio for his seventh LP.
The result is a record with a significantly different sound than Rutledge's acclaimed earlier solo works. His primary musical accompaniment here comes in the form of widely used female background vocals and strings. They're evident from the first track, "Unsettled," and those voices give a subtle gospel feel to "The Great Ascension."
Rutledge's immediately recognizable vocals remain delicate and mellow. Known for his subtle phrasing, vocally and lyrically, he is taking something of a risk with the strings, but it pays off. They add atmosphere and texture, and only on "I See Rain" do they come across as just a mite heavy-handed. His signature skill as a lyricist remains evident throughout, as on lines like "you give me a heart full of high beams" ("Blue Jeans"). He is especially eloquent on closing cut "Queen Street Lost," a poignant look at the changes wrought on his former T.O. hood by gentrification.
Those expecting the steel and twang sounds of earlier albums may initially be taken aback, but the strength of Rutledge's reliably poetic writing and his warm voice should gradually win them over. (Outside)