Canadian Stagger has built up a reputation over eight albums as a solid working man’s hero, a Canadian Steve Earle of sorts with a punk rock background before he hit a roots rock highway. His ninth album Truth Be Sold is released this week as he returns to the UK for a series of dates that include Maverick Festival and the Summertyne Festival in Gateshead. Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin (who adds sax on some cuts) Truth Be Sold is a vibrant ride which clatters along with several songs featuring garage riffs, fuzzed guitar and ramshackle percussion.
Martial drumming and snarling guitars introduce the opener, Memo, a ferocious finger pointing song that brims with anger. Goodnight Berlin has a Stones type swagger from the opening Keef like chords as drummer Nick Stecz drives the song, battering away for all he’s worth. The song rushes by leaving the listener breathless and demands repeated listening for the rush gained. Stagger tones it down for the laid back Celebrity, a bitter sweet essay on the emptiness of stardom that recalls a less deranged Green On Red but it’s all hands on deck for the turbo charged rant that is Cities On Fire. Written several years ago Stagger updated this powerful piece to pay tribute to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Hi octane rock’n’roll in its delivery Stagger’s vocals mesh with the propulsive rhythm as guitars soar and there’s even some BOC cowbell on display. Despite that there’s no sense of bloated stadium rock here, just a justified anger. Have A Heart is another pile driver of a song that betrays Berlin’s hand as a producer with the gutbucket guitar solo and hammering percussion recalling Los Lobos.
Interspersed with these fiery moments Stagger has his gentler moments. Break My Heart is a pedal steel sweetened lament with just the right amount of pathos. Sold Down The River is a similar wallow in pedal steel heaven while Mister dives into Steve Earle drawldom. Finally we must mention ESP which is a glorious celebration of life and music and which rivals the likes of Wilco as Stagger and band soar on a great melody, guitars chime and the harmonies are heavenly. A great song indeed.