Complacency is anathema to artists. The artist requires inspiration, stimulation, a muse in whatever form but a muse that challenges and argues and fires one up. If you can’t find her where you are maybe move, moving is the first step and moving was the first step for Justin Rutledge, the first step on a journey that took him east and east to East.
“I became complacent and uninspired living in Toronto,” he says to SlowCity.ca by email. “The city was changing fast and I wanted to get the hell out of there. I used to travel a lot when I was younger, and I wanted an adventure again. Tom's song ('Queen Street Lost') resonated with me because it was exactly how I was feeling.”
"Queen Street Lost" is the final track on Rutledge’s new album, East. The song has a man staring at his reflection in a window on Toronto’s hip strip, a strip Rutledge knows well, having grown up in the Junction and played many a night at the Cameron, the Horseshoe, other clubs along the downtown street. The reflection however, like the city, is now foreign to the viewer and so the man unsettles himself.
"Unsettled" leads off East, before sauntering through nine other tracks with the gait of Leonard Cohen leaving the Matador at closing time. Much of East, recorded with Daniel Ledwell in his Halifax studio, has the airs and graces of Cohen, married with the slender pop sensibility of Jason Collett. There is also something of Paul Simon and the Eagles on East, leisurely smooth, lyrically smart.
Rutledge says he wanted to make a pretty album, sonically pretty that is “lush and spacious.” He says the starting point was the trek to Ledwell’s and his introduction to the music community in and around Halifax.
“Daniel and his wife Jenn Grant have been great friends of mine for a while now, and Dan and I have always wanted to work on an album together. This batch of songs seemed to be the right fit,” he says.
A batch of friends fit into the recording to play and collaborate. Co-writers include Jadea Kelly, Matthew Barber and guest players include Bryden Baird and Melanie Stone among many others; all adding to plushness of sounds, horns, pedal steel, Wurlitzer and many many voices from the east.
Rutledge has his own voice, buttery, maple syrup on 15 year-old velvet -like but he builds choirs around his own vox. On his recent all Tragically Hip homage album, Daredevil (2014), he worked with Mary Margaret O'Hara, Andy Maize, Brendan Canning as well as Grant.
Man Descending (2008) featured Ron Sexsmith, Hawksley Workman, Catherine MacLellan, Melissa McClelland, Jim Bryson and Grant once again.
On The Early Widows (2010) he works with Oh Susanna.
Prophetically his debut album was titled No Never Alone. It was released in 2004 on Six Shooter, rereleased on Outside in 2012.
East, available on Outside Music, is an album that stands complete, in-between what seems like an ending and what seems like a beginning, a moment of movement. It is a great ascension for an artist who left to get right down into the dirt, to trade city for the colours of the country in Prince Edward County east of Toronto, who travelled further east when some might have gone west to seek newer frontiers. Not Rutledge, it maybe he has been moving east since the Devil sat on a bench in Stanley Park (released in 2006).
“The east coast of Canada is an extremely culturally rich place. Perhaps stereotypically one sees sailors and cod fishermen in their minds, but it is quite the opposite. The Maritimes are a special place in that there is a tremendous sense of community and quality of life," he says, "I was en route to St. John's once and someone got in touch with me to see if I wanted to go on a hike with them. This person was in a fairly successful band and we had never met, but he made an effort to connect and offer some hospitality. It is moments like these that enrich the east coast for me. It is tightly knit. I feel at home there. I haven't been able to connect as well with the West. Maybe someday.”
Sunday Oct 16 Rutledge will however trek west from the County for a performance at the Moustache Club in Oshawa. Jeremiah Hyslop and Trish Robb will support.
Friday October14Picton, ON The Hayloft Dancehall**
Saturday October 15 Peterborough, ON The Red Dog Tavern**
Sunday October 16 Oshawa, ON Moustache Club**
Thursday October 20 Hamilton, ON Mills Hardware**
Friday October21 St. Catharines, ONNAC Rooftop**
Saturday October 22Toronto, ONThe Great Hall**
Wednesday October 26, Waterloo, ONStarlight##
Thursday October 27London, ONAeolian Hall##
Friday October 28Windsor, ON Phog Lounge##
Saturday October 29Sarnia, ON Paddy Flaherty’s##
**with special guest Joshua Hyslop
##with special guest Jonathan Roy