Despite being young and a relative unknown, it was surprising that Leif Vollebekk didn’t receive more attention than he did from his debut album, Inland, which was released independently in 2008. Among Montreal’s thriving music scene, Vollebekk easily ranks as one of the city’s most skilled songwriters. His new release, North Americana, a ten-track homage to seventies music, should give listeners a second chance to recognize that.
A vinyl fan whose influences include Bob Dylan and Ray Charles as well as newer artists like Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams, Vollebekk successfully fuses a broad spectrum of music in large part by vocal versatility. On the intensely country-inspired “Southern United States,” the lyrics and instrumentals achieve a nostalgia mixed with optimism reminiscent of a Springsteen track. Other songs are harder to pin down. The equally narrative “When a Fire Took Down Rosenburg” diverges from Vollebekk’s usual mid-tempo country rock feel and gives us slow, soul-style vocals – at times you can detect a sort of male Adele – with a haunting piano accompaniment.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of the album is its ability to stay strong to its stylistic origins without sounding stuck in the past. Leif Vollebekk’s process is very old school. Aside from the occasional overdubbing, his tracks are recorded the purist way, favouring a raw analog feel over modern production techniques. This artistic choice may have been motivated to some extent by financial reasons, and it will be interesting to see whether Vollebekk’s next album will differ in that regard.
At the same time, the album’s lyrical themes reveal a world much different, and much less provincial, from that of Vollebekk’s major influences. “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground” features a distinctive, upbeat swing and makes trips to Canada, America, and Iceland in a sort of globalization of the countryside. That being said, it wouldn’t be too hard to mistake some of the songs on North Americana for tracks from the 60s and 70s. “Old gas station hasn’t changed in decades/Cashier checks the time around her,” Vollebekk sings on “Off the Main Drag,” pointing out that some things stay essentially the same.
Vollebekk will spend much of 2013 touring throughout Canada and the United States to promote North Americana. Considering Vollebekk’s talent as a performer, he should have no trouble attracting attention, particularly in the regions whose music he draws on – I have a feeling that “The Southern United States” will be popular in the Southern United States.
Because of Vollebekk’s perfectionist ethos – the recording of the album involved four studios and several takes – North Americana has the rare quality of being equally good throughout. A wonderful addition to the world of music, it’s hard not to find something to like in this album.