Raised on a healthy dose of ‘old’ country music, and having enjoyed a short foray into the resurgence of country during the mid 1990s, I am always happy to find some brand new country music that pays homage to those earlier pioneers. Citing some respectable names such as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard as his musical influence, Halifax, NS artist Thomas Stajcer has just released a debut album that is firmly rooted in the Outlaw Country tradition.
Recorded live off the floor at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studios in Dartmouth, NS, Stajcer finds himself in good company for this first offering, and even collaborated with Plaskett to write both “Wildfires” and “Love Me Now (Or Never Again).” Having honed his craft writing previously with other prolific songwriters such as Dave Sampson and Campbell Woods, Stajcer has crafted an impressive nine-track debut to stake his claim on this growing resurgence of the pure country sound.
Spinning this one for the first time, I noticed not only the dominant Outlaw country influences, but some tracks that share more of the ‘new country’ sound. And while my initial impressions were that this felt like an awkward ‘to and fro’ during that first listen, after subsequent whirls, I quickly learned to appreciate how Stajcer drifts between these distinct generations with apparent ease and sense of purpose.
Go ahead and start with “Love Me Now (Or Never Again),” the slow-burning, violin-infused ballad that oozes that old country charm, yet drops in some modern melodies. The traditional use of organ and fiddles on “Any Old Road” also helps harness that old-school sound, as does the ‘two-stepping’ beat that accompanies the tongue-in-cheek “Salesman.” Proceed to “Sad Cowboy,” and you will find an old and often forgotten ‘narrative’ (courtesy of Mike Trask) more akin to “The Dukes Of Hazzard.” Not something that I am particularly fond of, per se, but it certainly demonstrates a willingness to experiment within the context of the genre.
As for that sojourn to the modern country sound, for me, the slow paced “Wildfires” draws comparisons to a Randy Travis style vocal delivery. Looking for something a little more upbeat, then go ahead and skip to the Garth Brooks country-rock influences as found on the closing track, “How Long Could I Wait?” With this emphasis on a progression to ‘new country,’ but not quite ‘pop country,’ Stajcer is quite content to draw parallels to the modern era of country, but not enough to follow any trends of taking it into the pop-crossover territory (and for that, I salute you).
There are two tracks on this debut that jumped out to me, and for completely different reasons. The title track “Will I Learn To Love Again” conforms fully to the traditional sound, offering the perfect cue to entice the slow-dancers to hit the floor. With a deliberate slow pace and style that oozes vintage Merle Haggard or George Jones, and vocals that are clearly and deliberately articulated, this one is designed to tug at your heartstrings. “In The Long Run” is an absolute gem here, starting and finishing with a distinct Johnny Cash influence to satisfy the Outlaw fans once more, before tossing in a quick change of tempo that shifts instantly to the new era. This temporary jolt, and seamless transition back and forth, unites both generations and influences nicely; making those second, third, fourth and fifth spins much more meaningful, and making “In The Long Run” one of the best, and pivotal, works on the album.