JUSTIN RUTLEDGE as part of the City Roots City Wide Festival at the Gibsone-Jessope Gallery (55 Mill, bulding 8), Sunday (September 4) at 9:30 pm. $25, adv $20; weekend pass $65, adv $45. 416-667-8473, www.torontocityroots.com Rating: NNNNN
It's time Justin Rutledge ditched his whole country music deal and just accepted the fact that he was born to cover Bad Company's Rock & Roll Fantasy.
His whole goddam story reads like a feel-good Hollywood movie: protagonist gets to jam with his heroes, gets the girl and makes it huge - Britney huge - just like in that 2001 Stephen Herek movie Rock Star. Minus the hair, of course.
When I suggest he'd be perfect for the sequel, Rutledge actually considers it.
"Yeah, that'd be awesome," he says. "I don't much care for Jennifer Aniston, but that leather get-up Mark Wahlberg wears would be killer, especially if I was doing country instead of heavy metal."
At the rate Rutledge is going, he could pull it off and still retain his street cred. Things just seem to be going his way. How many budding songwriters who schlep beer for a living end up getting discovered by their favourite band, playing with them and having their debut album released on the band's label?
How many get to hop over to England, play a few dates and get rags like Uncut, Mojo and NME in a tizzy when just 10 minutes before they were scrounging to buy a pack of smokes and make another student loan payment?
"I'm a huge Mojave 3 fan. A couple of years back I met a guy named Julian Mash who was a regular at the pub and had mentioned that he and (Mojave 3 frontman) Neil Halstead were starting up their own label."
Rutledge gave him his demo and Mash gave it to Halstead. Next thing Rutledge knew, he was on Shady Lane Records and the Mojave guys were backing him up in England.
"It still blows my mind," he admits.
The UK press fell in love. Rutledge's brand of mellow, deeply personal alt-country elicited a flurry of adjectives like "mournful," "tearful," "melancholic" and "heart-wrenching."
These describe his sound, for sure, but the never-ending Ryan Adams comparisons have me scratching my head. Rutledge has an undeniable sincerity that comes through in every soft strum and silky syllable, something I never get from Adams, who seems to be going through the motions.
"Yeah, I know what you mean, but I gotta say his stuff with Whiskeytown was pretty fucking great, not to mention Heartbreaker. His name probably comes up because there aren't a whole lot of other musicians to compare me to, at least not ones a lot of people have actually heard of."
Rutledge may just stop the comparisons cold with his next album, due out in a couple of months, which features 40 familiar guest artists. He says it will be way different from 2004's No Never Alone (MapleMusic).
He no longer has that broken heart to draw on. In fact, he seems downright happy. Will the new tunes be a variation on Shiny Happy People and Walking On Sunshine?
"Because the last album was all slow songs, a lot of people thought it was a sad album, but I don't see it like that at all. To me it's a happy album, because when I was doing it I was totally in a great mood.
"The new one, which is about 80 per cent complete, is less rooted in traditional country, and its subject matter is less about love. Having 40 people on it meant I had to approach the whole process in a very communal way. Now we truly are the Junction Forty.
"I grew up in the Junction part of town. I never really felt like I fit in here, and when I went to England I thought I might find my new home. It was a total mindfuck, though, and I couldn't do it there. The local scene here is amazing, and I can't believe how good I feel now in Toronto. It really is true that home is home, and let me tell you, now my eyes are fucking open.