Any guy who can entice the elusive Mary-Margaret O'Hara to coo in her inimitably breathy fashion on his debut disc deserves props from the get-go. Even more amazing, O'Hara's perfectly mixed backing vocals on A Letter To Heather, the prettily wistful second track on No Never Alone, aren't even the highlight of Justin Rutledge's album. It's no surprise that his songs are dead on sonically. A superb roster of local talent, from Crazy Strings and the Creaking Tree String Quartet to Tricycle, fill out his thoughtful arrangements with slide guitar, banjo picking, saloon pianos and fiddle accents. But Rutledge is also a great songwriter, wisely avoiding country clichés in favour of rough-and-ragged lyrical musings that place him firmly in the present. The awesome thing is that his sighed tributes to garage bands and sentimental appreciation of Walt Whitman fit so gracefully into authentic wintry country tunes.
Justin Rutledge hits the Rivoli tonight (Thursday, February 17).