Southern Ontario singer/songwriter Spencer Burton has had a rather chameleonic career to date. He first made a mark in rockers Attack In Black, then went the folk-rock route under the moniker Grey Kingdom, as well as writing and performing live in City and Colour.
Burton assumed his own name for 2014's well-received Don't Let the World See Your Love, and he now ups the ante on the highly compelling Songs Of. Choosing to record in Nashville with name producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray For the Riff Raff), and members of Margo Price's band was presumably an expensive gamble, but one that paid off. The musicianship and production values are of a high level, yet they avoid seeming slick and glossy.
This sturdy frame is perfect for Burton's resonant deep voice and lyrics that are a cut above many of his peers. "Broken Hearts and Broken Chains: encapsulates the album's strengths, and it grabs your attention from the opening lines: "Got no God that I can thank, got no money in the bank." A mournful pedal steel sets the scene, but the later addition of a full-blooded gospel-ish female backing vocals sees the song roar, rather than sink into angst.
A similar dynamic is at work on "Small Towns," a gently rustic ode to the attractions of the quiet life boosted by a vigorous female vocal towards the end. Burton frequently meditates upon love, both with tenderness ("Unmistakable Love") and suspicion, as on "Love At First Sight" (it "is always blind," he observes). The slow pace of the material of the material tends to drag towards the end, as on "Dear Danny," but the strings-embellished and haunting "Songs Of Hurtin'" closes proceedings on a strong note. (Dine Alone)