Toronto’s Jerry Leger was building up a fine head of steam on this side of the pond a few years back. His live shows and almost back-to-back releases of Too Broke To Die (a retrospective collection) and Time Out For Tomorrow were widely acclaimed. He was due to build on this acclaim with a spring tour of the UK and Europe in 2020 but like everything else back then, the shutters sprang up.
Two years later, Leger has a new album out and a whole new set of dates over here coming up. The album, Nothing Pressing, can be considered (like numerous other current releases) as a product of the pandemic. In plain terms it consists of home recorded songs, solo studio efforts and, once they were able to do so, his band (The Situation) weigh in. This allows the album a fine degree of light and shade. Delve into the songs however and there’s more shade than light in terms of Leger’s lyrics and preoccupations. There’s none of the mercurial Dylan like rock which Leger is so adept at, instead the band songs are stoic and grounded, more rooted in a Neil Young like ditch than Dylan like flashes of lightning. When he does root around in a Dylan like guise it’s on the skeletal Underground Blues, a home recorded demo with sparks flying from Leger’s raw electric guitar calling to mind the bard’s ghosts of electricity.
The album opens with Leger strumming his 1959 Gibson acoustic guitar on the title song. Predating the pandemic but eerily prescient, it’s a sylvan fantasy of sorts as he moves into the country but is soon “bored out of his mind.” As if his wish to leave this fantasy was borne out, Kill It With Kindness is announced with a blast of electric guitar as the band sway in on a crunchy rocker which tackles personal demons, Leger here sounding like Phil Ochs fronting Elvis Costello’s Attractions. There’s more crunch on the swampy Stray Gators like slouch of Recluse Revisions which dives head first into ditch territory. Apparently inspired by the ennui encapsulated in Joan Didion’s 1970 novel, Play It As It Lays, Leger sings of a slightly jaded bunch of comrades, getting on in years, content now to just “play cowboy songs they know by heart.” It’s a mighty achievement and the towering point of the album. Wait A Little Longer, another full band outing has Angie Hilts singing harmony giving the song a lilting Everlys’ like sound, somewhat akin to that employed by the likes of T Bone Burnett or Nick Lowe when they go down an Everlys’ alleyway. Hilts also features on the jangled power pop of Have You Ever Been Happy, its upbeat sound belying the questing lyrics.
The remainder of the album is more introspective, perhaps reflecting Leger’s time spent in lockdown. With Only You is a yearning love song given a late era Beatles’ like burnish while A Page You’ve Turned is a sad, country like lament which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Flatlanders album. He delves deep into his vulnerabilities on Sinking In, another home recording, which exists on a similar plane to Alex Chilton’s fragile songs on the third Big Star album, but the crux of the disc is the deeply moving Still Patience, a song which came to Leger following the death of a close friend. Lennon like in its intimate delivery, the song resonates with loss. Closing the album as he began, strumming his trusty Gibson, Leger offers up Protector. A brilliant hangdog weariness inhabits the song which is like a self-composed eulogy with Leger posing at times as a gunfighter facing his last shootout. It’s kind of brilliant.
Highly nuanced and very finely written and delivered, Nothing Pressing certainly deserves Leger’s description of it as his “deepest artistic statement yet.” It’s a superb album.