Hard-working and prolific roots troubadour Leeroy Stagger has previously been toiling on the margins, putting out albums that deserved much more recognition. Happily, that seems to have changed in the last few years. Victory in the lucrative Alberta Peak Performance Project competition in 2015 netted him a cool $100k, helping Stagger set up a home studio. He recently signed to True North, and Love Versus, his 11th album, may just be a career-changer.
Lead single "I Want It All" has already scored more air/video play than any previous track, thanks to a catchy refrain and positive lyrics. The production work of Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Dan Mangan) captures Stagger's signature gritty vocals with clarity, and the A-list of accompanists here includes Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Paul Rigby (Neko Case) and Geoff Hilhorst (Deep Dark Woods). Joel Plaskett and Kathryn Calder also contribute, the former supplying guitar and harmony vocals on "Crooked Old World." Stagger spits vitriol on the cut, via lines like "go poison your blood and lay with the sheep."
He pays homage to his punk rock heroes on "Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone" ("We echo the words of our prophets"), though the sentiments are a mite despairing: "We're out on the streets all alone." Some searing guitar work drives the message home. On "I Want It All," Stagger declares "Gotta keep the flame burning, gotta keep that faith." He does just that, and with style, on the compelling Love Versus. (True North)