Corey Isenor A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) www.CoreyIsenor.Bandcamp.com
Back in the halcyon days of alt.country (damn it, I am old), No Depression was one of the few publications one could turn toward to be informed on the kind of music ‘we’ liked. Discount the occasional foray into areas that had little to do with country, no matter how alt. (The Shins, anyone? Black Keys?) and ongoing fascination with all things Jayhawks, No Depression allowed a continent of left-of-center music to find its way to my attention.
To the best of my remembering, the first issue I purchased was the one with Robbie Fulks on the cover. It was a thing of beauty, from the striking orange/yellow/green cover to the features of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jesse Dayton, live reviews of Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Ana Egge and George Jones, and reviews of recent bluegrass and country releases: I felt I had finally found ‘my people.’
I didn’t love everything about the magazine, naturally. I found several of their reviews fawning and some of their writers calculatingly obscure (or obtuse, depending.) But, much more often than not over the next 60+ issues, they kept me coming back to discover and re-examine music I may have otherwise missed, overlooked, or disregarded.
Why have I written the above three paragraphs to open a review of Corey Isenor’s sixth album, A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse)? Much as I might have a almost two decades ago, when I first listened to the album it brought back that rare, sparkling novelty of hearing an artist for the first time whom I felt l had been listening to forever. Part of the attraction, without a doubt, is that Isenor sounds not a little bit similar to Paul Burch, one of the many artists I ‘discovered’ via No Depression. It goes deeper.
For me, alt-country was less about wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers injecting Haggard and Williams into their raucous mix, and more about finding a way to expand the finest qualities of country music—story, melody, hooks, familiarity, history, and wordplay, rhymes, and puns—to something that was more than hair, sparkly suits, and Hee Haw cornpone. That’s what attracted me to the likes of Hubbard, Eaglesmith, Harris, Russell, Lynne, Fulks, and the Bottle Rockets from the first time I heard each, whether that was early 80s Emmylou or years later when I heard the most desperate words of ignorance I could imagine: “If kerosene works, why not gasoline?”
Isenor brings all that and more to this collection. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph, sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”)
“The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions.
I hadn’t previously encountered Isenor prior to hearing A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse.) Listening to his songs on Bandcamp, I know I have much exploring to do. “The Ballad of Emily” is already a favourite. Isenor is from Nova Scotia and in addition to being an incredible roots music talent as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, and producer, he is an accomplished artist, photographer, and graphic designer. I hate him.
A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) has become one of my favourite country/folk what-have-you albums of 2016. Had I read a review of it in No Depression, I might have been intrigued. Having heard it, I am significantly enthralled.
Thank you for sticking with me at Fervor Coulee for these many years: hopefully you are finding roots music opinions of values as you traverse the crowded modern music landscape. Join me at @FervorCoulee for additional unremarkable insights.