One of Canada’s secrets until his breakthrough album of last year, Nonsense and Heartache, Jerry Leger is one of those artists who believes in getting the music out there, putting in the groundwork and letting his gigs spread the word. Indeed, last year when he was appearing in Norway around about the time of his birthday, he managed to get the promoters to find him a “cool pub” to play in on that date, “Just to play some music and have a hang afterwards.” His first UK tour last year was a success and he’s coming back for more dates this month and this limited edition retrospective will only be available on CD at the shows although it is available as a download purchase for those not able to attend.
Too Broke To Die pulls together 19 songs from Leger’s 10 albums so far along with two previously unreleased numbers and it’s a splendid introduction to his fine blend of folk, rock and, for want of a better word, Americana. There are reflective ballads and balls to the wall rockers scattered throughout with the connective tissue consisting of Leger’s voice which is somewhat of a more mellifluous take on the late sixties Dylan coupled with an occasional resemblance at times to the vocals of Daniel Meade. Without any detailed info re the makeup of the album we’d guess it’s in chronological order as there’s a definite sense of the songs, arrangements and production values becoming more sophisticated as the disc plays. There’s a delightful brashness on the opening Red City which is part bar room rocker, part folk punk sneer while Old Shoes On my Feet retains that sneer while also stepping into saloon sing-along territory. See My Baby Run and Too Broke To Die expand on this with the latter featuring some ferocious rockabilly like guitar while Leger snarls away.
Beating The Storm and Round Walls bring the temperature down with jangling guitars recalling the likes of Nikki Sudden and The Jacobites while Wrong Kind Of Girl captures some kind of Texas styled story telling but it’s on You Got Away From Me that Leger has a stylistic leap of sorts. Here he’s still recognisably the guy who sang Round Walls a few songs earlier but here the song is swathed in an excellent sound with washes of organ, malleted percussion and sly slide guitar. His Dylan side is highlighted on Den Of Sin while Pass The Time recalls Lloyd Cole and The Commotions and on You Really Got It So Bad he manages the difficult task of joining up the sensibilities of Phil Ochs with a Lennon like melancholia.
There’s perhaps too many comparisons going on here so let’s just say that the live version of Drive Away Tonight has the making of a country classic in it with its eternal themes of driving and lost love (and it’s a fine example of what to expect from Leger in a live situation). Factory Made meanwhile is a fine example of a film noir trip into the loss of the American dream (although of course Leger is Canadian) and The Big Smoke Blues thrashes away but in a much slinkier switchblade style than the earlier rockers. Leger’s well into his stride by now and songs such as Another Dead Radio Star and Thing’s Are Changing ‘Round Here are probably best described as sounding like Jerry Leger. He’s a rock’n’roll romantic and a bit of a poet by now and the closing songs all reflect this. The album is an interesting (and very listenable) portrait of his artistic arc and, as we said above, if you want a hard copy, you need to get to one of the upcoming shows including one at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint in 14th April. All the tour dates are here.