CD Review – Rob Lutes “The Bravest Birds”
Montreal based singer-songwriter Rob Lutes has been making records for a decade now, steadily building a reputation as a fine exponent of his craft. I first heard of him through the live disc he released with his regular sidekick, ace guitarist Rob MacDonald. This new album of (mostly) original material naturally features MacDonald at the head of a list of excellent musicians who have conjured a rich brew of predominantly acoustic music.
There are thirteen tracks here, including one instrumental and one cover. The other eleven songs are written or co-written by Rob Lutes and are explorations of life and love that are part-poetic, part philosophic. He writes about the moments when insight strikes and seems to take his inspiration from his physical environment. Ithaca Waterfall, for example, ties together the falling water and the idea of falling tears as he describes the healing power of losing yourself in contemplation of a natural wonder. More than most writers, Rob Lutes is writing in a state of calm reflection, not in the heat of a moment; his thoughtful style requires a little work on the part of the listener but, if you get into his world view, you’ll feel well-rewarded.
Sometimes the presence of a cover version will provide powerful illumination of the performer’s own writing, and such is the case here. Rob Lutes chose Loudon Wainwright’s Natural Disaster as his “guest song”, and the taut, focused writing evident in that song stands in contrast to the rather more discursive sprawl of Lutes’ own style. Though you can’t imagine Rob Lutes writing a pop song, there are a few numbers here which show he can get into doing something more direct. Ithaca Waterfall, for one, feels like a really neatly constructed song, whilst The Tree stands out as the easiest song to get into, its cheerful jazzy shuffle being immediately enjoyable.
Each to their own, though, and this group of musicians make an interesting journey out of each leisurely excursion across a three or four minute song. Time and again your attention is drawn by some wonderfully subtle playing – understated but always fascinating, and everyone playing their part. Josh Zubot on violin, Rob Fahie on upright bass, Denis Ducharme on piano and even the supporting vocals of Josephine Von Soukonnov all provide some wonderful moments. Rob Lutes’ own lead vocal is husky, sometimes whispered and sometimes impassioned. To me he sounds like a natural blues singer but there’s no blues here, just a full dose of thoughtful songwriting and prime quality musicianship.