Review: Justin Rutledge, “Something Easy”

Justin Rutledge, “Something Easy”

Justin Rutledge didn’t make it easy to articulate the myriad of enchantments to be found on his new album, “Something Easy,”, his tenth, out today via Outside Music. It might be easy to describe the sumptuous production, or the varied unpredictable arrangements, or the thoughtful tempo with which each song unfolds in this nine-song contemplation on what gets held, on what remains in the hallway of memory, and those distilled feelings that tug at the sleeve of our sentiments.

At some point in every life, there comes a time to take stock, to look back. As the footsteps long behind begin to fade and memories blur, where we came from doesn’t always tell us where we are going. Rutledge, who has been making astounding music for the past twenty years, delighting fans and critics alike, discovered that in the making of “Something Easy,” thematically, he was writing about his youth – not longingly or even with regret, but almost with a sense of astonishment.

That’s the flavour that infuses “Something Easy” – astonishment. Each track takes the listener by surprise. And if you take the time to listen carefully, Rutledge’s work here will touch you deeply. With the precision of an alchemist, Justin Rutledge mixes elements and textures, creating an atmosphere that surround each of these tracks in its own distinct aura. He finds ways to create something wholly his own.

Firstly, the lyrics are sparse and cryptic, more like pencil outlines, hinting more than fully explaining, teasing the imagination, inviting speculation, more like haiku than biography. The lyrical poetry sung by Rutledge in a honeyed, tender whisper, is fortified by a wide array of musical components- beguiling electric guitar, a dazzling mixture of natural and electronic drumming, glistening, swooping pedal steel, horns and strings, sonic flourishes, backing vocals, soft as summer rain. All combined to take your breath away.

Rutledge decided to produce, write, record and engineer the album himself, while caring for his infant children. It took him two years of slow painstaking work. He had to teach himself the basics of engineering and production, but in so doing he found the freedom to explore and the magic to generate the intense sonic pleasures that this set of songs provide.

Justin Rutledge

The songs themselves seem to revolve around that period of youth when the door to adulthood is within sight – seventeen, eighteen.  Rutledge carefully avoids nostalgic reminiscence but the mood is wistful, probing, as if examining the time frame more for tone than exactitude. But you can’t escape the heartache in these songs.  

I feel you in my labours / I feel you in my fears / I feel you in my failures / I feel you in my older years,” writes Rutledge in the second song, “Seventeen,” after the opening, “Angry Young Man,” which incidentally creates the tension resolved, somewhat, in the final song “London.” “Seventeen” provides some insight into where Rutledge is taking us and he maps out something of a trail throughout each of the songs, albeit elusively. Is it possible that he is writing a kind of love letter to the past? Perhaps the mystery is left unsolved.

“Head for the Hills,” a single already in circulation, is a stunning achievement both in mood and arrangement, with its pointed horn solo, uplifting yet enigmatic refrain: “Is there anybody out there? / Is there anyone? / Anyone?” Who has not felt so alone or forlorn? 

“Lioness” is the biggest production and the most powerful statement on the album, summing up, as it were the pondering that Rutledge has been exploring in the previous tracks. “What has become of your roadmaps and the glory of it all? / Must have lost myself completely / I have begun to transform like a lake beneath a moon, like a lover pinned with ardour / I write you to say I turned 18 yesterday on the highway.” Metaphoric, stirring, soulful, “Lioness” takes you into the heart of the matter with its trembling insight. “I’ve seen the jaws of the Lioness, set to swallow me alive, and sister, I was frightened.”

Get the album, sit down with a glass or two, with a friend or loved one. Listen closely track by track. Find out for yourself why “Something Easy” is not always necessarily so – you have to work at it. Justin Rutledge has crafted a very special gift of music and poetry, take the time to savour it fully.    

Photo Credit: Jen Squires

Douglas McLean fell in love with music at a very early age and has worked as a musician and songwriter since his early teens. He has a deep love for the written word and has spent his life in pursuit of language as a means to convey what Van Morrison once called “the inarticulate speech of the heart”. He lives deep in the Almaguin Highlands with his wife and their dog. Douglas is active in local radio, recording, producing and writing, in and around Huntsville, Ontario.

His website is:

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