I always thought that the 2013 release “Valleyheart” would be a tough act to follow for Justin Rutledge.  It was naturally unfair to compare the 2014 “Daredevil” tribute album of Hip covers, so the new release “East” was to be my litmus test. And here, after heavy rotation in the CD player, is my proclamation that Justin has indeed managed to set the bar much higher.

The standout track on this release has to be “The Great Ascension,” with an outro that is just phenomenal.  I could listen to the closing 60 seconds of this track all day long. L commented to me how she loves the discreet, yet gradual, introduction of mellow banjo to close the song.  But for me, it’s the dominance of the bass laying down the foundations for the mix of guitars and piano that interweave with the great lyrics throughout the song.  That outro though is a true piece of work, and I would rate this song as possibly one of the most moving pieces that I have encountered in a long time.

As “The Great Ascension” fades out, I notice an incredibly smooth fluidity into “North Wind” and “Blue Jeans.”  These are three completely different songs, but I love the placement of these tracks on the CD that provides a seamless transition.  For me, each track is the natural successor as they progress, and I would certainly ask of Justin that should he perform all of these live, please keep them just as they are.  Play them back to back because why ruin a good thing; the track placement and transition are simply fantastic.

With “Heaven Help Us,” both L and I experienced a sense of déjà vu, where we both instantly heard the song and unexpectedly connected the sound with that of a different time and genre.  For L, the comparison was a Glen Campbell tune, yet for me, I could hear early Peter Cetera and Chicago.  Ultimately we both concluded that this track could easily be mistaken for something you’d likely hear on a seventies throwback radio station (which for us is a good thing!), and represents an unexpected gem from Justin.

In closing, “East” demonstrates a natural maturity and growth since “Valleyheart.”  This CD has been playing continuously during my daily commute for the last three days, and it is going to be difficult to have to hit the eject button. I could easily keep playing this one for another three weeks.  In fact, if I can force myself to eject this disc from the CD player, I can also opt to keep it in the car for a while with a handful of other select discs that receive heavy play rotation.  Justin – I look forward to hearing many of the new offerings live, but also hope to enjoy tracks from “Valleyheart” and at least one or two of the wonderful Hip covers from “Daredevil” too.  Team GDW look forward to catching you live at Mills Hardware in Hamilton later this week.

~ M