Album review: LEEROY STAGGER – Truth Be Sold

Clubhouse Records UK [Release date 04.06.13]

‘Truth Be Sold’ is an album full of linguistic exuberance and boisterous musical vitality. Leeroy Stagger is a Canadian wordsmith with a punk indie past who is joined on this album by the experienced producer Steve Berlin. The result is a bristling roots rock crossover over album that is rooted in Americana but never hemmed in by it.

‘Truth Be Sold’ has far more depth than its cynical title suggests, with songs routed in Leeroy’s autobiographical past, but with universal themes.  His lyrics pull no punches as he deconstructs relationships, situations and contemporary politics. His songs are occasionally beefed up by Steve Berlin’s percussion heavy approach and backed by a variety of guitar tones, which bring a change of emphasis, as on the biting lyrics of ‘Cities On Fire’.

It’s an album that strives to match Stagger’s emotional intent with an organic live in the studio sound, overseen by a producer who knows the value of shifting dynamics and different tempos.

The album doesn’t so much ebb and flow as simply focus on Leeroy’s lyrical honesty. A blend of steely riffs, emotive pedal steel parts, glistening harmonies and their roots rocking opposite, are all subtly shaped by Berlin’s innovative production touches.

But Leeroy’s best moments come when he draws you into his narratives to reflect the subtly ironies of life. ‘Celebrity’ for example, finds his gently voiced lyrics interwoven by nuanced bv’s, jangling guitars and a concluding line that perfectly summarizes the title of the song: ‘Everybody hates you, everybody wants to be you. Everybody loves you and nobody wants to be you’.

He rocks out with spiky anger of the opening ‘Memo’ with a Keith Richard riff, a big drum sound and a Zeppelin style drone. The equally angst ridden ‘Cities On Fire’ could have been written for the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, as he shifts his position from that of an observational narrator to a committed participatory role. Thus: ‘Tonight the kids are rising, Rising from their seats to occupy the streets’, subtly shifts to: ‘We are the people we are the poor, this is our country that we’re fighting for’.

And as if to emphasize the light and shade of the album, he slips from angst filled bluster to a brace of reflective love songs that promise potential radio plays. He wraps his soulful voice round his heartfelt lyrics with a Van Morrison style vocal on the pedal steel layered ‘Break My Heart’ and evokes the emotional pull of Jackson Brown on ‘ESP’, which again benefits from a layered production.

Nick Stecz’s subtle percussive pattern and a distant buzz guitar colours the insistent tempo of ‘Other Half,’ as Leeroy’s aching vocals perfectly evoke the reflective lyrics. ‘Sold Down The River’ pulls the album back to country tinged Americana on a haunting, pedal steel driven tale on which his languid phrasing reflects a world in which he recalls both ‘hard beds and minor chords, still try to find the lord’ . He also ponders the temptations of the road: ‘Bad drugs and good advice, decided to see the sights, the city of thieves is guiding me in’.

The album rocks out on ‘Have A Heart’. The song features Neil Young style grunge guitar, an elemental hook and more great lines such as: ‘Hit the wall and drive straight into nothing but the shadow of a doubt’. It’s also the track that might well provide him with potential rock radio appeal.

‘Truth Be Sold’ is an indie rooted, Americana style collection of old and new songs, that is given a contemporary sheen by an intuitive production. But ultimately it’s the lucidity and consistency of Leeroy’s songs that gives  ‘Truth Will Be Sold’ its resonant quality. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

 

 


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