Russell DeCarle Under The Big Big Sky

Russell DeCarle Under The Big Big Sky
Canada's best country band of the last 25 years, Prairie Oyster, have kept a low profile as of late, but singer Russell DeCarle returns to the spotlight in spectacular fashion on this, his long-awaited solo debut. Fans of his work will be pleased to note that the veteran's distinctively rich, resonant voice sounds better than ever, while the album showcases his skill as a songwriter. DeCarle wrote nine of the 11 tracks, with his cover of Cindy Walker's "Goin' Away Party" being a smart choice. Given his popularity in the roots music community, it's no surprise to find a star-studded guest list, including Jim Cuddy (vocals on "Don't Ask The Question"), Dala and ace guitarists Keith Glass, Kevin Breit, David Wilcox, Amos Garrett and Steve Briggs. Producer John Sheard does a masterful job of keeping all the elements (including horns) balanced. As with Prairie Oyster, DeCarle covers wide stylistic terrain, with Western swing and vintage jazz, blues and country elements merging seamlessly. Tracks like "Shooting Star" have a retro feel suggestive of kindred spirits the Mavericks. There's even a convincing yodel on the warmly atmospheric title song. This material may well be too authentic for banal country radio, but don't expect a better Canadian country record than this one this year. (Fontana North/Universal)