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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1562

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Rob Lutes: Truth and Fiction
by George Graham

(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/17/2009)

Singer-songwriters come in a remarkable variety sounds and styles, but perhaps because there are fewer of them that are heard south of the 49th Parallel, there is a certain kind of sound associated with Canadian male folk artists -- usually the big-voiced singer in the tradition of Gordon Lightfoot or Stan Rogers, or the lyrically incisive style of Bruce Cockburn. This week, we have a new recording by a talented folkie from Montreal whose style evokes Americana, with a laid-back sound that might have come out of drawling Texas, rather than Francophone Quebec. He is Rob Lutes, whose new CD is called Truth & Fiction.

Rob Lutes has been recording since 2000 and has toured Europe and the US, as well as around his home country, where he has developed a following. Truth & Fiction is his fourth CD and it puts him the company of Boston area producer David Goodrich who has worked with such artists as Chris Smither and Jeffrey Foucault, which might account for some of the Americana sound. But Lutes himself evokes that aura with his slightly bluesy textures, philosophical lyrics and gruff, baritone vocals that can bear an uncanny resemblance to the famous one-album-wonder Texas singer-songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey, along with hints of producer Goodrich's other clients including Smither and Foucault.

Lutes is one of those songwriters who likes to tackle some of life's bigger questions in a somewhat indirect manner, in typical folkie fashion, letting the listener fill in some of the blanks. There are few love songs per se, rather songs that consider relationships in a larger context, though they can be populated by some characters.

The instrumental backing on the CD is eminently tasteful, and mostly acoustic, with very scaled-back arrangements, and frequent solo moments with Lutes by himself. But he is joined by a band with a prominent acoustic bass as played by Morgan Moore. A notable presence is vocalist Annabelle Chvostek, of the Wailin' Jennies, singing backup. Lutes frequent live performance partner, guitarist Rob McDonald is heard on lead guitar, occasionally electric. Light percussion and drums are provided by Geoff Arsenault. Lutes concentrates on acoustic guitar, and often with bluesy licks.

The dozen songs on the CD span a fairly wide range, but the sound is usually reasonably intimate, a good fit for the frequently introspective lyrics.

Opening is a track that rather sums up the sound and approach of the CD. I Know a Girl considers people and the patterns of life that may trap them. <<>>

In a similar vein is Constancy with its vaguely stealthy sound. Lutes considers relationships in a larger context in this track that turns out to be one of the CD's highlights. <<>>

A Small Reminder has a folkier sound, with some added fiddle. It considers the general state of the world and where we all may be headed. <<>>

Lutes includes one cover on Truth & Fiction, Warren Zevon's Mutineer. With the electric slide guitar, Lutes' version hints at the original Zevon version. It fits into the general lyrical outlook of the CD, but it doesn't really add much to the recording. <<>>

The bluesy side of Lutes' music is especially evident on the track called The Only Soul, which is performed accompanied by just the acoustic guitars of Lutes and McDonald. <<>>

Also with the blues at the center of the lyrics is a piece called If the Blues Don't Shake You, with a somewhat more electric backing. <<>>

A little different in lyrical approach is Slips Away which recalls romance in a drive-in theater and looks a life through the lens of the movies once seen at that drive-in. <<>>

The CD ends with Autumn Light which features Lutes on banjo, and some fiddle as played by Olivier Demers. Despite the bluegrass instrumentation, it's hardly a bluegrass song in direction. <<>>

Rob Lutes' new fourth CD, Truth & Fiction his first to get wider distribution or promotion in the US, is a fine recording by a literate, tasteful folkie who has more in common with American roots artists than the classic Canadian folk sound. Sometimes his vocals can sound a little affected when he does a kind of gruff-sounding furtive whisper, but overall, he's quite appealing. The musicianship is first rate, and the mostly acoustic arrangements are excellent, with the overall sound coming off as pleasingly relaxed.

Our audio quality grade is close to an "A." The sound of the acoustic instruments is clean and bright, and Lutes' vocals are well-captured, with a warm and intimate quality. The dynamic range is a little better than average for these days of overly compressed CDs.

Rob Lutes is a worthy addition to the list of notable Canadian folk artists.

(c) Copyright 2009 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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