Justin Rutledge "The Early Widows"
“Early Widows” could be considered Justin Rutledge’s difficult fourth album. Not entirely happy with his previous (albeit excellent) outing “Man Descending”, he has shaken things up more than somewhat. Gone is the delicate acoustic with minimal backing, in comes an electric, a proper rock sound, a choir, walls of sound and even, on “Snowman” some Clare Terry “Great Gig In The Sky” wailing from Julie Fader and Susan Ungerleider. As if that wasn’t enough, the songs are a linked set for a theatrical production based on Divisidero, a novel by Michael Ondaatje, who even gets a co-writing credit on opener “Be A Man”. To top it all off the whole thing was recorded live.
Any one of those changes is a big risk, collectively they’re huge, but the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward and “Early Widows” is a little masterpiece and quite possible the best thing Rutledge has recorded. One thing that hasn’t changed is his songwriting: the desire for the real in “Heart Of A River”, complete with crashing emotive climax, the opaque metaphors of “Islands” and the wistful longing, doomed to end in regret, of “Jack of Diamonds”, every song is perilously close to perfect. It’s not a big leap to see them all as pleas and strainings for renewal, and the bruised yearning of Rutledge’s voice is perfectly to convey those desires. The nine minute epic “Carry On”, which boasts a huge titular refrain that alternately shivers and shrives is the outstanding piece, but truly, this really is as good as it gets.