LEIF VOLLEBEKK – New Ways (Secret City Records)

New WaysOttowa born, Montreal resident Leif Vollebekk returns with his fourth full length album, New Ways, following on from its 2017 Polaris Music Prize nominated predecessor, Twin Solitude. Claiming to be a material shift from the introspection of that album – and also a partner to it in the sense of filling the gaps between those songs – New Ways captures moments of emotional engagement, of relationships.

The slowly unfolding ‘The Way That You Feel’ still retains a strong sense of the inward-looking, so it’s not until ‘Never Be Back’ that a more external-facing mood takes over. Its rapid-fire, sub-rap R&B possibly influenced by Vollebekk’s listening to lots of Rihanna and Macy Gray, while another R&B-based track, ‘Hot Tears’, appears to drop an unlikely Oasis tribute in the line “what’s the story, morning glory?”.

Further influenced by the films of Terence Malick and Richard Linklater, ‘Transatlantic Flight’ casually references Julie Delpy whilst also containing one of music’s least flattering compliments, “you look good when you’re tired on a transatlantic flight”. Smooth.

‘Phaedrus’ takes a more bluesy turn, quickly countered by the paciness of ‘Blood Brother’ with its hard-edged rock guitar in the mid-section. In the way of one of Vollebekk’s big inspirations, Leonard Cohen, sometimes troubling phrases pass by without question. Lyrics like “you know your lips whenever you kiss me, it’s like a gun against my skin” raise questions about the emotional health of any relationship. Still, through the slow country blues of ‘Change’ into ‘I’m Not Your Lover’ (“anymore” adds the gravelly lament), it seems things may have moved on. Probably for the best.

There’s an overall cohesion to the album, deriving from the use of a limited palette of instruments, in hues of jazz, blues and country. The one-time, one-take recording of ‘Wait A While’ perhaps best exemplifying Vollebekk’s passion to capture a sense of immediacy.

And yet, nothing that’s gone before signals the sudden jolt into Americana and the rather downbeat yodels of ‘Apalachee Plain’. In mood, it stands apart from the other songs here, perhaps being more reminiscent of Vollebekk’s earlier work and a closer tie to the North American tradition than is suggested by other songs in this collection.

He may have already completed the UK leg of his current tour, but there will be another chance to catch up with Leif Vollebekk at London’s Bush Hall in April next year.

Su O’Brien

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Artist’s website: www.leifvollebekk.com

‘Transatlantic Flight’ – official video: