Review: Burnt Out Lightning (Lester Slade)

Category: music 213

Burnt Out Lightning is a complete album in the best sense. If you’re not already a country music fan, this album should change that. And if you are a country music fan, consider this one a win. A big win.

Matt Carter 

On his latest release Burnt Out Lightning, Moncton’s Lester Slade shares nine new songs, each a standalone gem of straight-up country goodness, delivered with a drawl so thick and honest sounding they almost feel too authentic to be rooted right here in New Brunswick. But they are.

For starters, Burnt Out Lightning is a country album. But it’s not a Country album, if you catch my drift. Country by design, but not by approach. And I believe that’s what sets it apart from the pack and makes it something just far enough removed from the endless line of tropes we either apply ourselves to this music or are employed by an artist (intentionally or not) looking to label what they do as being country. Burnt Out Lightning isn’t all big hats and boots. I’d be more inclined to say it’s Dirty Ball Caps and Ramones T-Shirt Country, if that makes any sense.

This distinguishing trait has a lot to do with the players Slade has surrounded himself with for this release. Without the backing of Cam Murphy (The Peter Parkers) on drums, Dan Logan (Midnight Ramblers) on bass and Alex Madsen (The Divorcees) on electric guitar, Slade’s songs, for all their strength, may not have ended up as happily rooted in the genre’s outskirts as they seem.  As far as calling them country songs goes, they may not be the first development in a new country music suburb, but if we’re going to start using location metaphors here, I’d say they live far enough outside the city limits to draw influence from new neighbours.

But it isn’t fair to place all this originally on the band. Right from the get-go, Slade’s skill as a songwriter rides high. Like how on the album’s opener Pay to Fish, he pulls us along with a winding story that teases at a familiar form yet never arrives at a chorus. Or at least not the chorus we were expecting. Still, the song holds its own and doesn’t at all feel incomplete despite never resolving in a traditional sense. The story is all we need.

The comparisons to Steve Earle are all too easy. Slade dances around country music familiarity by singing about loneliness, heartache and reminiscing on the past while bringing elements of rock and pop music into his songwriting through his approach to rhythm and feel. Slade’s got his own thing happening. And his songs truly carry their own weight. The way this entire album is arranged, these nine songs could exist as just voice and acoustic guitar without losing their impact.

What do I love about this album? Lots. I love Slade’s voice. The way it quivers on long notes, like he’s fighting for the strength needed to get these words out. I love how his songs and their stories create entire worlds all their own, with the band shaping distinct environments for each of these stories to exist. I love how Madsen’s lead lines on Less I Know lift the song higher and higher to hit a chill inducing climax. And I love how Murphy and Logan play with structure to give each song its own sonic character.

Burnt Out Lightning is a complete album in the best sense. If you’re not already a country music fan, this album should change that. And if you are a country music fan, consider this one a win. A big win.

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