Justin Rutledge

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.