Music Review: Rob Lutes - The Bravest Birds

New Brunswickers, most Maritimers in fact, have a strong loyalty to home and place. Even in a time when more and more young people are moving west for work, you'll find they want to come home as much as possible. Thank heavens for those free flights from Fort McMurray, they are about the only thing keeping some families on the East Coast together these days. Then there's that current joke: What's the biggest city in Newfoundland? Fort McMurray.

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Anyway, once a New Brunswicker, always a New Brunswicker, and that's how Rob Lutes has always looked at it. Originally from Rothesay, he's been working out of Montreal for many years now, but he's not going to let you forget his home town. His press biography still proudly points it out. And you can always count on him to come home at an important time. Whenever he puts out a new album, you can be sure he'll have a couple of dates lined up in the area. First though, the new album. It's called The Bravest Birds, and it's his sixth CD since he started recording back in 2000. This one's a full studio album, after a fine live album last time out. Often you'll see him on tour, and on live disc with his guitar partner Rob MacDonald. For The Bravest Birds, MacDonald is still there, providing his echoey, atmospheric guitar sounds. Plus this is a full band production. Lutes has a great reputation as an acoustic performer, especially from his constant live work, but it's also nice to hear his songs fleshed out.

Lutes is really developing a big reputation in the roots-songwriter world. And that extends to Europe these days. There's a music website called Euro Americana, which is for fans of North American roots performers over on the continent. Each month they do up a chart of the top albums, as based on the preferences of their reporters and followers. And guess who tops the charts for February? That's pretty telling, because Lutes is ahead of such names as Richard Thompson, Kris Kristofferson, and Buddy Miller.

That's a tribute to his combination of talents. He's an excellent finger-picking acoustic player, and there's a couple of nasty jams on the album for guitar fans. He has a fine, old-soul kind of voice, homey, world-worn, the kind you'd expect from a hard-travelling musician. His sound is that great combination of modern and traditional, guitar songs with modern chord changes, but brought to life with acoustics, upright bass, violin, real piano. And then there's the writing. His use of simple and direct words grabs our attention, makes it easy to follow the narrative, and the images are rich. The title of The Ship That Sails Today is a good example, we're immediately aware something important is about to happen, when that ship goes. The language is rich, he describes the scene using words such as tantalizing, murky, inkling. There's a chandelier that sways on board. That's quite a scene he's set for us, and it's where we meet the album's title characters too, the bravest birds, the ones that fly alongside that ship. You don't just listen to a song like this, you live inside it each time.

Lutes returns to New Brunswick on his tour for the new album. He'll be in St. Andrews on Tuesday, February 26, playing at Salty Towers. Then the next night, Wednesday the 27th you'll find him home, at the Shadow Lawn in Rothesay.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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