Vollebekk shows prowess in North Americana

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March 13, 2013

North Americana
Leif Vollebekk
Released by Outside Music
Produced by Howard Bilerman and Tom Gloady

Reviewed by Noah Cebuliak

Montréal poet-crooner Leif Vollebekk’s sophomore offering North Americana is a strong evolution from his 2010 debut Inland. Recorded to tape in a variety of locations and with the ideal of capturing the perfect take, the album showcases Vollebekk as a rambling, half-crazed genius with a gift for turning deft phrases and milking his harmonica dry. It’s simultaneously more focused and relaxed than his first, and if slightly less playful (no songs about the Faroe Islands here), more confident in tone and scope.

It’s not difficult to parse Vollebekk’s influences–Dylan, Waits, Kerouac–but he taps this inspiration more subtly on this album than he did on his debut. Perhaps it’s a result of a maturation in life and music, coming into his own sonic intent, but North Americana manages to sound familiar and fresh at once, a rare feat in any era. The combination of a tight backing band, a clever lyric book and his unique, milky voice keeps the record turning.

That said, most of the songs on NA do sound the same–Vollebekk’s not exactly breaching any new frontiers here. His images and stories are well told, and the production is warm and welcoming, but if the listener is permitted one quibble, it’s lack of strong melody. North Americana falls into the category of an “atmospheric” album–that is, you play the whole thing and are transported into Vollebekk’s southern summer highway dream for a while. That’s a fantastic thing for  music to do.

But this isn’t an offering full of hooks or passages that keep you up in the dead of night. Most of the songs’ twists and turns are relatively predictable, because it seems that Vollebekk’s following a formula, albeit one that works, and has worked for the past 100 years or more–the lineage of folk. While there’s nothing too wild in terms of arrangement and instrumentation, a real sense of space dominates the record. Space is generally an underused element in today’s releases, and Vollebekk demonstrates his mastery of it here

Leif Vollebekk has made a highly listenable album, especially for those packing their bags to hit the road–leaving behind an old lover, or going in search of a new one. It’s sultry, it’s hopeful and sly, and after a few listens, you can feel you really “get” where Vollebekk’s at. On North Americana, Leif Vollebekk has established himself as the next great eastern folk-poet.

 

North Americana is available on iTunes and through www.leifvollebekk.com.

 

Noah Cebuliak is a Montréal-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who leads the indie-folk-pop trio Ghost Lights. He independently released his debut EP in November 2012. Check out www.ghostlights.ca.

 

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