Justin Rutledge In Concert This Weekend

Don't mind Justin Rutledge if he seems a bit moody right now. It's just that despite nature's best efforts, the days are starting to get warmer, and longer, the snow looks to be finally gone. Unlike the majority of people, Rutledge isn't thrilled by this. "I'm a winter guy," he admits, from his home in Toronto. "In the winter I hibernate and contemplate. I always sort of dread when the summer comes, I never look forward to it, and when September comes around, I begin to see the light."

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It's best then to catch him on tour right away, before the heat hits. Luckily he's in New Brunswick over the next few nights, in Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton, the latest stretch of shows for his February album, Valleyheart. He says it's very much a winter's record. "I think Valleyheart reflects my personality. I wanted it to feel cold, it's not a hot record." In keeping with that, these shows are stripped down to the bare essentials, just Rutledge and his guitar, and a dim light on stage. "I'm travelling by myself this time, I'm just gonna make my way out East solo, that's the way i did the West coast too. I bring a little lamp with me. Some of these songs on Valleyheart lend themselves to that kind of mood."

Valleyheart is a subtle listen, with beautiful melodies, sweet harmonies, and above all, Rutledge's stunning voice. The backing is subdued, on purpose. "I really wanted to pare things back with the record," he explains. "I had an idea, I wanted to focus on the space in the music, I didn't want to cloud things up with too much information. I wanted to ground the record around the piano and everything would revolve around that. I had this series of songs, and needed a couple of others, and went back in time to find some songs I might have missed, that weren't recorded." One of those is Kapuskasing Coffee, a real highlight on the disc, simple and direct with memories of another time. "Valleyheart really lives in a certain place for me," says Rutledge, "and I wanted to take the listener to a certain place for them. It's a place uninhabited by humans, it's spaces and places where people don't exist. Maybe a land before complications. It's a special album to me. It might be the first album that I've done correctly, it might be the first one where I've secured my vision."

Although he has a hard time deciding if he likes being with a band, or playing solo, he certainly sees the merit in going out alone for shows like these: "I take a lot of time with the words i write, so the words are more easily heard (solo), I'm not fighting against a rhythm section to get the words to come across. If i can carry a show by myself, just me and a guitar, it is sort of a testament to what the songs can do, that can stand up on their own two feet. And it depends on where I'm playing, the environment is key to how the songs are digested. The audience, if they do know my music, they can hear it in a different kind of way. Most fans of mine are fans of songwriters, and will enjoy hearing them that way."

Rutledge plays Friday night in Saint John at the Sanctuary Theatre, Saturday in Fredericton at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, and Tuesday in Moncton at the Tide & Boar. Olympic Symphonium open up the Fredericton and Saint John concerts.

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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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