Judging by music journalism these days, it seems that ever since “post-punk,”we’ re living in a “post-everything” world. So why not just start over again from the beginning? It’ s easy to feel that way when listening to Jerry Leger’ s brilliant new album Nonsense And Heartache, because that’ s precisely what it suggests through its combination of primal rock and roll, and raw, confessional balladry. The separation between the two is evident by the album’ s title, and it is in fact two distinct collections of songs presented on two slabs of vinyl. In many ways, Jerry Leger’ s artistic path has been leading up to this ambitious display of both sides of his musical personality, fueled by countless nights playing in Toronto bars with a loyal band equally committed to keeping rock and roll’ s original flame burning. But while many others have made the same commitment, there’ s always been something special about Jerry Leger’ s songs that few can match. It bears repeating, and is hardly an understatement, that he manages to channel the youthful vigor of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young and Rick Danko, sometimes all within the same song. But at heart, Leger is driven by a quest to convey in his own manner the purity embedded in the grooves of the vintage rock, country and soul recordings he so dearly loves. This trait attracted early support from fellow singer/songwriters like Ron Sexsmith, and his staunchest ally, producer and label head Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. Employing his distinctive live-off-the-floor recording approach on Nonsense And Heartache, Timmins focused on capturing the chemistry between Leger and his core musicians: multi-instrumentalist James McKie, bassist Dan Mock and drummer Kyle Sullivan, along with guest vocalist Angie Hilts. The ragged-but-right results perfectly complement Leger’ s tales of characters on the fringe, attempting to unravel life’ s mysteries. Leger describes the album himself by saying, “Mike came up with the idea of doing a double album, but it’ s really two different records—Nonsense and Heartache—packaged into one. He had the idea to record one album as electric, bluesy, dirty rock and roll, with James and I on electric guitars, Dan on electric bass and Kyle bashing away. The other album was intended to be more of a singer/songwriter record with me on acoustic guitar or piano, James on fiddle or lap steel, Dan on upright and Kyle using brushes and percussion. So, it’ s not an ego trip for either of us. It just felt like it made more sense to put them together, plus the fact that neither is overly long, just about 35 minutes each.”Leger adds that the more concise vision expressed on Nonsense And Heartache was a contrast to his previous album, 2014’ s Early Riser, on which he took a much more freewheeling approach in the studio with a bevy of guests and an array of instrumentation. In the time following Early Riser, Leger formed the in-the-moment side projects the Del-Fi’ s and the Bop-Fi’ s, with whom he now regularly get his kicks on stage and in the studio. He also released a split 7-inch with Graham Nicholas and co-produced albums by Ben Somer and Eric & The Soo. It all helped guide him toward achieving what he most wanted for Nonsense And Heartache, a sonic consistency throughout the sum of its parts.
The relationship between Leger and Timmins also works so well because, as songwriters, each shares a fondness for arcane Americana. There is plenty of rich detail in tracks like “Another Dead Radio Star” and “Pawn Shop Piano” that, depending on your perspective, could evoke either the past or present. The former references the famous Orson Welles-voiced character The Shadow, which Leger found to be an ideal metaphor. “That image kind of runs through the whole song as a way of describing what we’ve lost, but at the same time never completely goes away,” he says.
“‘Pawn Shop Piano’ I think describes how I live my life in some ways—the antique and junk shops, the day-to-day living, the debts. It also has a couple references I had written down from years earlier when I toured the U.S. for the first time. We found a cheap motel in the middle of the night somewhere in West Virginia called the Travel Lite, which was a scary joint. And in Johnson City, Tennessee we stumbled upon a pawnshop called Diamonds & Guns that had a really cool hand-painted sign. Things like that often stick with me until I find a home for them.”
Through persistence and patience, Jerry Leger has been finding his own home within the Canadian music scene, earning his place in the pantheon of this country’s great singer/songwriters. Nonsense And Heartache brings him one very significant step closer.
– by Jason Schneider