Montreal-based soul-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Leif Vollebekk could be the new Doctor Who as he time travels on this, his third album, ‘Twin Solitude,’ to Vancouver, Michigan, Montana, Telluride (Colorado), Eden, the Ether and even to Heaven’s Door in search of his ex. But the itchy feet serve a purpose as many of the songs on the album are cameos from much time spent on the road, observing life’s many twists and turns and chronicling them by way of reference to something as abstract as a road sign or an event in a TV show. A latter-day flaneur.
It’s unclear as to what ‘Twin Solitude’ refers to. On one level it might be as simple a matter as two people journeying incommunicado, as Jason Bourne does with Marie Kreutz throughout much of The Bourne Identity. Or it might hint at a split personality. There is a degree of incongruity throughout the work that stimulates the imagination.
Opening track ‘Vancouver Time,’ for which read ‘quality time’ perhaps, features the same slow piano, and drum beat, as found on most of the early songs on Twin Solitude. Vancouver is an interesting place, a Pacific locale divorced from eastern Canada where he is based by lengthy time zones but on a par with the western US (California, Seattle, possibly Portland) and the same pressures that are associated with Montreal and Toronto. The song makes a good fist of representing the laid back life style there.
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In ‘All Night Sedans’ Leif has forsaken one gig economy for another as he trawls the streets, Uber-like, having “all night stands.” The song is notable for his propensity for clever word play: “No truth at all, babe; I should have made the call; half a favour is no favour at all,” and “the way it was, not despite but because, will live in eternity. “It’s an object lesson in how to mesmerise a listener. But there comes a point where the meaning is lost in a lyric that’s too smart for its own good.
‘Elegy,’ already released as a single, is what it says on the tin, a simple piano lament for a love removed at length and painfully, rather than suddenly and dramatically but which only succeeds in stirring his soul for a yearned for reunion. Subtly ambiguous it is guaranteed to win the hearts of losers in matters of the heart, whatever the reason, and is possibly the best track on the album.
“I know you better than you know yourself,” he confidently asserts to the object of ‘Into the Ether,’ someone who pretends to be what he or she is not, while admitting that he isn’t best suited to offer advice, having been there himself and not learned the lessons (shades of St Vincent’s Prince Johnny); while ‘Big Sky Country’ (an allusion to Montana and not to be confused with the underrated Chris Whitley’s not dissimilar song of the same title) is an ode to the Redwing Blackbird, the most abundant land bird in North America, but with a tendency to migrate in their millions to Mexico. An obscure political comment? Perhaps.
In ‘Michigan,’ Leif himself migrates four states due eastwards to “say hello to all the snow” in a state where he’s never been. He’s done with healers and sycophants and presumably expects less of them in the macho Donald-supporting Wolverine State. “You and me, Robert, we ramble on,” he intones, and unfortunately he does too, in this more traditional, slow and repetitive country-folk song.
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Constellations, twilight skies and reflections in a pool figure in the even slower and heartfelt road trip song ‘Road to Venus,’ which here is a heavenly body but not one that Patrick Moore would instruct you to find on the shoulder of Orion in the west at dusk (which is pretty much where it is right now, as it happens). The line “in my blood… the intravenous road to Venus” is a classic while he even manages to sample Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Clever stuff.
Returning to Terra Firma, by now the tracks are falling into a familiar pattern, though ‘East of Eden’ is the most expansive so far, with some almost flamboyant guitar passages thrown in while ‘Telluride,’ another song title that has been used several times already, carries on in the same vein, off-handedly dismissing the Human Race as “People talking trash; Soon to be ash; Nobody asked to be here.”
The album closes with the eight-minute epic ‘Rest,’ which is quite different from anything that preceded it, employing what sounds like a harmonium, and a harp. It could be music for a funeral parlour, with added vocals and the lyrics suggest that ultimate rest is indeed its theme. A challenging song that requires studied concentration and it builds through a poignant and highly satisfying instrumental mid-section.
A couple of hearings are really inadequate to get to grips with this complex, emotive and occasionally morbid album from an astute social observer. That Vollebekk has been compared to Canada’s Broken Social Scene is no coincidence. The wordsmith is, though, his own worst enemy at times with unnecessarily fussy lyrics on some of the early songs in particular, frequently indulging in superfluous multiple rhymes like some sort of prototype folk rapper.
There is also a degree of similarity between songs to the point that they are in danger of becoming monotonous. There is no bridge or other form of break, instrumental or otherwise, until the last track and a lack of tonal variation.
Having said that, this album is one of those that you just know will grow on you with every successive hearing.
Twin Solitude will be released on 24th February via Secret City Records.
Leif Vollebekk plays two dates in New York and Montreal (the album launch show) before travelling to Europe to commence a 25-city tour at the beginning of March and then returning to the US and Canada for a further 18 dates through to mid-May. See below…
4/13 @ Le Cercle – Quebec, Canada
4/14 @ First Baptist Church – Ottawa, Canada
4/16 @ The Great Hall Toronto – Toronto, Canada
4/20 @ Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub – Cambridge, MA
4/21 @ World Cafe Live – Philadelphia, PA
4/25 @ The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
4/26 @ Casbah San Diego – San Diego, CA
4/29 @ Starline Social Club – Oakland, CA
5/1 @ Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
5/3 @ The Sunset – Seattle, WA
5/4 @ The Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, Canada
5/6 @ The Olympic Venue – Boise, ID
5/7 @ Kilby Court – Salt Lake City, UT
5/8 @ Lost Lake – Denver, CO
5/10 @ First Avenue & 7th St Entry – Minneapolis, MN
5/12 @ Lincoln Hall + Schubas – Chicago, IL
5/13 @ The Firebird – St. Louis, MO
5/16 @ Club Cafe – Pittsburgh, PA