Among the current crop of alt-country/Americana songwriters, Leeroy
Stagger stands out above most of his peers based entirely upon the
depth of his storytelling abilities. While Stagger's voice and guitar
playing both recall a younger Steve Earle or perhaps Heartbreaker-era
Ryan Adams, the songs that he writes are more akin to the earlier
works of Springsteen or John Mellencamp. The tales of rural
American life are rich and vivid while the accompanying music is gutsy
and low. The songs on Depression River wind their way through sonic
territory familiar to fans of today's roots-based music, from gritty electric
blues to haunting and sparse Appalachian folk.
The early songs on the album stick to the more rocking sounds made popular
by Steve Earle and the like, and on tracks like "Depression River"
and "Wish You Were The Trees" the beat and the tone of the guitars
would easily carry the weight, but there is a fantastic depth to the writing,
as well. "Gonna take a walk to Depression River/ we're gonna walk
across to the other side/ where evil roams and bodies wander/ three kids
got killed that year and one of 'em was my brother/ three kids got laid
in dirt that March by their fathers and their mothers." Stagger emphasizes
this darkness with a gutsy, thick guitar line pounding above a hard-driving
rhythm. But this album has more up its sleeve than rocking alt-country.
"Best Mistake" is perhaps the shiningest example of not only
Stagger's brilliant ability to tell a story based around simple, loving
observations, but his talent at weaving a lightly dense acoustic Americana
sound complete with mandolin, slide guitar and meandering piano. The beauty
of this track is immense, and the vocal depth recalls Ryan Adams' finest
moments from the salad days of Whiskeytown. "Saskatoon"
has a higher, lonesomer sound complete with some great steel guitar licks
and a howling soulful vocal.
There is a breadth of musical styles and songwriting ability found on
this new record from Leeroy Stagger. His writing is filled with literary
allusion and a good dose of literal rural storytelling, creating a collection
of songs that can appeal to Americana fans, as well as those that just
really like a good song. And I really like a good song
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