Justin Rutledge & the Junction Forty,
No Never Alone
(self-produced, 2003)

Toronto singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge knows his way around, through and into sad songs. No Never Alone is a collection of country songs that sound much older than they are. It's a soft record, gentle and reflective, and I can't stop listening to it, sometimes for the poetry, sometimes for the beautifully crafted music, sometimes just for the sadness.

The album features an impressive cast of players (it takes up a whole page in the booklet) and some of the saddest images I've heard in song. Rutledge is a wonderful writer, very expressive, and isn't afraid to embrace the melancholy world of love, life and regret. No Never Alone shows the great promise of this young songwriter.

I bought this CD only for one song, the opening track, "Too Sober to Sleep." I'd seen Justin perform it live and was drawn to the images of loneliness. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find an entire record full of similarly well-written songs. "1855" is a wistful expression of hope that recalls Walt Whitman and is accented beautifully with Burke Carroll's slide guitar. Caught in between the classic words and music are several very modern phrases, firmly placing these songs in the decade in which they were recorded and creating an interesting play between the old and the new. On "Sleeveless in Vancouver," images of a modern metropolis play against the sleepy rhythm of electric bass and piano floating around the verses.

The traditional-sounding "Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus" was in fact written by Rutledge and is a throwback to an earlier time of country music, rooted in traditional gospel themes. Another lovely surprise is Mary Margaret O'Hara's haunting vocal on "A Letter to Heather."

In addition to acoustic guitar and harmonica, Rutledge also plays banjo on the traditional instrumental "The Year of Jubilo" and "A Letter to Heather."

Each time I listen to No Never Alone, a hopeful title for a record full of lonely songs, I hear new combinations of words that I've never heard, or new combinations of notes I haven't comprehended before. This is a beautiful record that practically lights the candles and pours the wine for you.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 2 October 2004

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