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REVIEW: JUSTIN RUTLEDGE - "ISLANDS"

Veteran Canadian Alt Country troubadour Justin Rutledge's retrospective album "Islands" was released on March 26th on Outside Music featuring nine tracks, most of which are new stripped down renditions of past songs.



Islands is Rutledge's ninth studio record and an interesting one from the Toronto native as it primarily features re-recordings of songs spanning the length of his career. These stripped down renditions of Justin's songs provide a glimpse at what the tracks were like when they were originally conceived and give the listener a feeling of what a Justin Rutledge show is like.


The idea to take the listener on the journey inside the club during an unprecedented time in live music when that is not an actual possibility is, quite simply, brilliant. We've seen many live streamed concerts over the past year, many of which have somewhat pacified our desire to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a passionate crowd, 10 dollar beer in hand, attending a live show. Justin decided to mark this moment in time permanently amongst his discography with "Islands".


The album, as a whole, accomplished exactly what Rutledge set out to do. As I sat in my living room, on the verge of another Ontario lockdown, whiskey glass in hand, I sank into the record track by track. The first Track "Come Summertime" sets the mood for what's to come, opening with Justin's acoustic guitar and his voice. A subtle lead and piano join in to add to the overall sound without taking anything away from raw feel of the intimate performance we're attending. As we lead into the next track, you can almost the hear the applause rise and fall quickly as we try to identify the next song in the set. "Good Man", originally recorded in 2018 for his 2019 record "Passages". A song that Rutledge has candidly disclosed is about a close friend of his who was struggling with addiction. In the wake of the Covid-19, it can be difficult to not try and apply the feeling of any new music that comes over my headphones to the situation we currently find ourselves in. The second verse of "Good Man" could echo very close to home for many as we turn the calendar over into a second year of lockdowns.

"You can lose a year but it can't keep a good man down"

Days later, I found myself repeating Justin's mantra, meant for a struggling friend, as I came to terms with 4 more weeks of isolation, stress and uncertainty.


As "Islands" continues to draw us in, we arrive at that halfway point in the set where Justin dazzles us with yet another Tragically Hip cover. It's no secret that Rutledge has drawn much influence from the music of Canada's Poet Laureate and his love of The Hip was truly realized in his 2014 tribute album Daredevil. Day For Night's requiem "Nautical Disaster" was not included on that 2014 release but has been a staple in Rutledge's live shows for years and fits perfectly in the setlist that is "Islands".


As "St. Peter" is coming to its conclusion and we're approaching the end of the show, longtime fans of Justin Rutledge know exactly what's coming. As the spritely strumming starts and the gang vocals ring out, the entire crowd is on their feet singing "Jellybean" at the top of their lungs. The song has been staple closer for Rutledge for many years now but the fans never really had a studio version of the track, until now. The energy of this song makes for a brilliant album closer and a fitting end for our own personal intimate performance.


"Islands" is actually what you need right now as a fan of Justin's music and for the listener just discovering his music, it's a perfect introduction to the Juno Award-Winning singer-songwriter.


"Islands" is available on all major streaming platforms and can be purchased on CD and limited edition vinyl on Bandcamp.


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