Jerry Leger: Presenting Two Sides of an Underrated Canadian Musician

Monday 05th, June 2017 / 21:34
By Brendan Morley

Road worn Toronto songwriter is securing his legacy in Canadian music.
Photo by Laura Proctor

CALGARY – Jerry Leger is no stranger to the road. He cut his teeth for years playing the Canadian circuit, either dazzling late-night crowds in taverns backed by his electric band The Situation, or playing stripped-down folk ballads to intimate audiences in concert halls. A musical chameleon, Leger can cater his set to match the atmosphere of each venue he visits. This diversity is excellently rendered in his latest release Nonsense and Heartache. As the title cleverly hints, this ambitious 18-song album presents two distinct sides of Leger.

The ‘Nonsense’ side of the record kicks open the door with crunchy Link Wray-esque guitar tones and hard-hitting drums on blues-soaked rock and roll numbers. Its jangly, loose feel and confident lyrical delivery is reminiscent of Dylan going electric with The Hawks. Flip over to the ‘Heartache’ side of the record and you’ll be met with warm acoustic guitars, country fiddle, and dark bellowing piano ballads that will remind you of your own mortality. Together, these two halves form Leger’s most mature and strongest album yet.

“That was a title that had been floating around in my head for a while,” Leger recalls as he sips a beer at his Toronto home on a brief break from his nationwide tour. Warren Zevon is spinning on the turntable in the background.

“Mike [Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies] called me one day and had the idea that ‘well a lot of people still don’t know you, and over all these records you’ve made, there are two main sides of you where either you’re rocking and rolling or you’re more of this singer/songwriter, folk and root-sy artist.’ So he had the concept ‘let’s make two different records and have one more rock and roll and have the other more melodic, acoustic and introspective.’ I was game.”

After collaborating on his 2014 release Early Riser, Jerry Leger teamed up again with Timmins to produce his new record.

“Mike has such a great ear and is so talented in his own right as a writer and a musician. He is just as talented in the studio and knows how to get, you know – from the way that I record – how to get these sounds.”

Armed with his seasoned backing band, The Situation, and Timmins at the wheel, Jerry says they cut the album mostly all live off the floor, insisting “there’s a lot of magic that you can’t recreate when you’re doing it piece-by-piece. I don’t like doing it that way.”

Jerry Leger, not unlike the late great Townes Van Zandt, is often bestowed with the title of a songwriter’s songwriter. While an esteemed title in inner circles, this accolade often suggests that an artist is relatively unknown in the general public sphere. And just like Townes, as exemplified on the genre-sprawling Nonsense and Heartache, Leger refuses to wear only one musical hat to sell himself.

“I’ve always been a very, you know, an obscure off-the-radar artist because I don’t have a lot of compromises in my music, which I’ve learned over the years it does hold you back commercially. But it was never really a goal to be rich and famous. I hoped that I would gain enough recognition just based on the quality I was putting out.”

In the final line of album closer “Pawn Shop Piano,” Jerry ends with the question “Does it make me a fool to be playing just for you?”

Is it worth sacrificing fame and fortune to hold on to your authenticity?

Emphatically, the answer is “yes.”

Jerry Leger is performing at the Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club on June 7 (Winnipeg), the Underground Café on June 10 (Saskatoon), the Ironwood Stage & Grill on June 11 (Calgary), and The Needle on June 12 (Edmonton).

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