Justin Rutledge The Devil On A Bench In Stanley Park

Justin Rutledge The Devil On A Bench In Stanley Park
Toronto troubadour Justin Rutledge received serious (and deserved) praise for his 2004 debut, No Never Alone, an artfully-crafted collection of mellow and mostly sad roots-inflected tunes. He ups the ante on this follow-up, an album that is considerably more expansive, both musically and vocally. Perpetually labelled a "miserablist,” Rutledge remains a master of melancholy. That is confirmed by such gently haunting tunes as "Backseat Honeymoon/Blue Is What I Do” and "I Am with Her Where the Avalanche Begins,” while he displays an increased vocal vigour on such tunes as the muscular "This Is War.” The album’s real tour de force is "The Suffering Of Pepe O’Malley (Pt. IV),” a richly romantic ode to Vienna, one that showcases his poetic gifts — "the hookers there read Baudelaire atop the cobblestones.” The peer respect Rutledge enjoys is vividly illustrated by the A list nature of his core band and special guests here. The former includes pedal steel ace Burke Carroll, guitarist David Baxter (who co-produces) and Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan and Bob Packwood, the latter Oh Susanna, Tim Vesely, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and backing vocalist Melissa McClelland. In terms of singer-songwriter albums, this ranks right alongside initial sake Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years as the very best of the year. There were reports of you working on a different record than this earlier…
I had completed a second record before this entitled In the Fall. I did that over a year, with a total of 40 people on it, and it took a heckuva lot out of me. It was an interesting concept, but it didn’t go where I thought a sophomore album should go. I didn’t feel as though it challenged the thematic and musical motifs I established on No Never Alone. I still intend to release that record down the road. It was an out of body little experience, as all these people I admire are on the record — artists like Hawksley Workman, Oh Susanna, Martin Tielli, Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, and Serena Ryder.

Stanley Park is much more succinct and has much more of a band feel than No Never Alone.
There is a je ne sais quoi you get when there are five people in the room together. We didn’t rehearse the songs before we went in. Most of them are first or second takes, with a lot of live off the floor vocals. We had already cultivated a relationship outside the music, to the point where I sort of forget they are such fabulous players. It was just a very comfortable environment. It almost felt like it was too easy to be a record.

These songs take us from Vancouver to Alaska to Vienna. Do you find travel stimulates the muse?
I write pretty well when I’m travelling. I find it very difficult living in Toronto with so much stimuli around all the time. You can go see a good concert every night here. It’s easier if you are in a hotel room. I was in Nashville in late June, and I spent my last four days there just writing in my room. (Six Shooter)