Friday, February 27, 2009

Reviews:: Jon-Rae Fletcher Oh, Maria

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We only have so many legs to stand on; family, friends, the people we love and the city we call home. For Jon-Rae Fletcher, over the last year couple of years he has seen most of those pillars crumble and to top it off, his band broke up. On the surface, that might seem as cliché as a beaten down hero losing his dog in the divorce, but you forget that just because musicians create art doesn’t mean their words are scripted.

After the dust settled, Jon-Rae left Toronto and headed back west and Oh, Maria is the stark, honest result. Gone are the soulful riffs that he & The River perfected on Knows What You Need, and in their place are folk tracks laced with emotion and sincerity. His new band – including Kathryn Calder of New Pornographers/Immaculate Machine fame, Ladyhawk’s Darcy Hancock, Crystal Dee Denham and Denver Rawson shaping the mood of the songs with dark trombone – are there to support Jon-Rae, but even when his voice swells the music is more about supporting the mood with subtleties.

Recorded in only four hours, the songs feel more like a conversation than a confessional. Fletcher isn’t always sure how to handle his thoughts, often retreating to near silence or swelling to powerful crescendos instead taking the time to worry about the clarity. While you might get the feeling that means the songs are lacking or rushed, you couldn’t be more wrong. Jon-Rae completely opens up to the listener and the earnest words are some of his most beautiful. Obviously, the end of his relationship shapes Oh, Maria - when he sings, “this is the sound of my heartbreaking in two” on The Sound, you feel the seams of your own heart starting to stretch – but the record exposes so much more.

As Jon-Rae's thoughts meander across the ten-songs and you get the sneaking suspicion this is his way of getting it all off his chest. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a concept album, but it plays like one of those late night conversations that starts with a reluctant admission and by the time the sun is coming up, the ashtray is littered with untouched cigarettes burned down to the filter and you've revealed - if only for your own sanity - your deepest fears. Fletcher's biggest success on this record is how easily you can imagine these events happening to him, but the common themes of heart break, feeling lost, admitting that it wasn’t always someone else's fault, pointing out what you dislike the most about yourself (The Big Talker), and the exhaustion of trying to keep the train on the tracks transfers to all of us.

Whether it’s intimacy of a gentle touch on the small of her back (City Lights) or how those same hands can be used to hurt or for pleasure (Those Hands), Fletcher doesn't shy away from his strongest emotions but you still want to think that at the end of the day, Jon-Rae will be ok. It will take time, but as the fuzz, piano and horns spike the energy and optimism on the album closer Oh, Maria, you see Fletcher trying to be the bigger - and more importantly, a better - person and get some closure. Selfishly, if turmoil helps Jon-Rae write songs as moving as the 10 he penned for Oh, Maria, I hope that closure isn't just around the corner.

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Posted at 8:13 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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