Justin Rutledge at the Cameron, July 12. Tickets: pass the hat. Attendance: 50. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Local singer/songwriter Justin Rutledge cranks out sad and lonesome alt-country tunes about lost love and libations with a capability that belies his 25 years and with similarities to the likes of Gram Parsons, except that he's probably not, well, you know - doomed. His debut album, No Never Alone, was released on Shadylane Records in the UK, whereupon NME suggested Rutledge sweep in and assume the crown of Ryan Adams, who's currently on everyone's not-hot list.
I checked out Rutledge and his band the Junction Forty at the Cameron, where they've been holding the post of house band Monday nights for the past three months or so. It's a pass-the-hat, or in this case the pitcher, thing.
Despite competition from a louder band in the back room, the evening stayed on the mellow side and folks stayed quiet and engaged throughout the sets.
For this gig, the Junction Forty - piano, guitar, lap steel, bass and drums (they were playing with a new drummer and sub bassist for the evening) - hauled out a lot of covers, because, as Rutledge put it, "Nobody wants to go out to hear music they don't know."
The first set featured tunes by Gram Parsons, the Byrds and Townes Van Zandt along with a couple of songs from No Never Alone, including the sardonic Too Sober To Sleep and the 21st-century gospel song Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus, to which Rutledge throws in the lyrics of Bowie's Modern Love.
These original pieces fit seamlessly into a list of classics by undisputed masters of songwriting craft, which proves a lot. Far too many people throw painfully substandard originals into a set of covers, and you have to wonder just how deluded they have to be not to see how much their own tunes suck by comparison.
The second set was mellower, since the back-room band was finished and people were even quieter. Impressive.