Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold review

This review is a long time coming. Pretty much the theme around the Fervor Coulee bunker of late.

I bought the download of Truth Be Sold in early summer when it was released. The publicist sent me the disc a couple months ago. I’ve been listening to it the whole time, falling deeper under its complex spell the whole time. While it sounds just fine on the iPod, Truth Be Sold is an album that needs to be heard through an old-school stereo system- speakers vibrating the pictures on the walls. My apologies for the delay in featuring the album here at Fervor Coulee.

staggerLeeroy Stagger Truth Be Sold Gold Lake Records

Leeroy Stagger’s eighth album Truth Be Sold aggressively announces its presence with a bold burst of rock ‘n’ roll power. “Memo,” replete with harsh reality, is just the opening salvo in a collection of songs that should stand as testament to Stagger’s well-established versatility.

Written in conjunction with guitarist/bassist Evan Uschenko and drummer Nick Stecz, the eleven songs comprising Truth Be Sold aren’t all modern noisy boy representation of power glam influences…but, mostly they are. Some hear Stooges and Stones, I hear Mott the Hoople and T.Rex, and on “Have a Heart,” Slade. The rambunctious “Goodnight Berlin” and the lead-off “Memo” are beautiful meldings of garage rawness and glam bluster.

More in your face than his previous Radiant Land, Truth Be Sold continues that excellent album’s themes of searching and alienation- elements that have been Stagger’s bread & butter for a decade- but lacks- intentionally, I believe- that recording’s overarching gentle beauty: if Radiant Land was the weekend’s promise, then Truth Be Sold is its aftermath.

Interspersed between the salvos of testosterone-fuelled bliss, Stagger and his crew demonstrate they are no one-trick bar band. “Celebrity” and “Break My Heart” are gentler, but no less fierce. Working with producer Steve Berlin for the first time, this Stagger outing doesn’t necessarily sound ‘better’ than previous releases, but it does feel different, more worldly and less personal. Truth Be Sold represents the ‘band’ Leeroy Stagger, the powerful live act that he is so comfortable fronting rather than the singer-songwriter on a stool persona he frequently assumes.  Both are genuine, but they are completely different beasts inhabiting the same body.

“Cities on Fire” is a folk song filtered through Joe Strummer while “Break My Heart” mingles longing, self-doubt, and pedal steel reminding one of the clarity Alejandro Escovedo once brought to alcohol-induced introspection.

For me, the album’s standout tracks comprise the album’s final third. “Sold Down the River” and “Mister” are edgy songs balancing Stagger’s straightforward lyrical grace with the lively intensity a rock band affords: Slaid Cleaves meets the E Street Band. Admittedly, that sounds stupid- but it’s all I’ve got.

Like most of Truth Be Sold, “Mister” – first heard a couple years ago on Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 has a catchy chorus, but unlike much of this album’s songs, the character sketched has great dimension and density: if you aren’t the guy who works for near minimum wage, whose aspiration exceeds his grasp, you know him. Truth Be Sold isn’t so much about story as it is about emotion.

This theme of wanting something different for yourself, but not having a clue how to go about achieving such connects the songs, and comes fully realized in the closer, “Jackie.” “But all I brought for you is a song,” the narrator admits, and one can’t be sure if he is incapable of bringing more, or if he’s just so caught up in his own spider webs that he can’t be bothered.

The repeated misuse of ‘your’ for ‘you’re’ within the lyric booklet is a minor irritant.

Truth Be Sold is a complex, diverse album- loud ‘n’ proud, political and opinionated, lost and found, hopeless and hopeful- that continues the path previously forged by Everything is Real and Little Victories, but is no step backward. Early on it earned a place on my 2014 Polaris Music Prize ballot, and it remains there- can’t see it falling off.

“We’ll listen to the record play, listen to the record play on…”

In December Leeroy Stagger, along with John Wort Hannam and Dave McCann, will be touring select Alberta locations with the annual Highway 3 Roots Review. He is also part of Barney Bentall’s Cariboo Opry  in Bragg Creek, November 30.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald

Twitter @FervorCoulee

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