Polaris Shortlist Roundup: Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude (Secret City Records)

“If you’re a fan of a rainy day jam, this album might as well be a hurricane…”

“Take a look at me now…”

Flashback to March, I was an upstart radio kid, fresh out of school, enamored with even the slightest opportunity at a shot in the dark career in the industry of my dreams, and slugging away at a small independent radio station in Toronto, Ontario. It was an ordinary day at the station all things considered until we had the opportunity of meeting Leif Vollebekk for the first time.

The singer-songwriter from Montreal was booked in to record a live session in our tiny studio on the third floor of the town home we broadcasted from, and arrived on time adorned in a vibrant, oversized, tie dye shirt with Prince’s face splattered right in the centre. Admittedly, I had no idea who this guy was to begin with, and I’d be lying if I told you that the first impressions solidified any real confidence in his legitimacy (given the outrageous attire and all), however that was all set to change.

“I want you,

I just want you to be in a trance too,

Maybe find something you can dance to,

And hold on to something you know is true,

And slip into the ether…”

After lugging a vintage organ up three flights of narrow stairs and squeezing Leif’s entire setup into the tiny closet of a room we called a studio this mystery man in his oversized Prince t shirt launched into a cover of Case Of You by Canadian icon Joni Mitchell, and in four and a half minutes won over the entire office.

This guy could play.

Leif could not only play, but he’s one of a rare breed that really feels the music, becomes one with the lyrics and melody as he lurches back and forth behind the keys. It’s one of the many reasons that since that day in that tiny studio, that I’ve been completely enamored by this young man with an old soul, writing and performing music that’s raw, visceral, and unabashedly honest.

At the time of this radio session Leif had just released his third full length album: Twin Solitude through Secret City Records, and after hearing him follow up Case Of You with the lead single “Elegy”, I grabbed a copy of the record on the way home that day. The packaging was minimal, the artwork, fairly simplistic, but the content was absolutely phenomenal. Listening to the record the first time through I couldn’t help but be reminded of something an old music teacher had taught me (ironically also a huge Prince fan): “Sometimes it’s not all the notes that you can play, it’s the notes that you don’t for the purpose of telling the story. Sometimes the beauty is not in the music, but in the spaces in between.” It’s an old adapted adage from the jazz era, and Vollebekk seems to understand this adage to a tee.

Twin Solitude is a songwriter’s masterpiece, it’s a heart wrenchingly honest look into the soul, and if you’re a fan of a great rainy day jam, this record might as well be a hurricane. Tracks like “Elegy”, “All Night Sedans”, and “Vancouver Time” touch on themes of love and lust carried forth via Leif’s amazing ability to paint pictures using words and melody alone. Wayfaring songs “Michigan”, “Big Sky Country”, and “Into The Ether” provide a calming levity to balance out the heavy hitters. Despite Leif’s minimalistic style not once in the duration have I ever thought: “hey this could really use some extra percussion” or “don’t you think this song sounds a little vacant” and that alone is a testament to how great a writer this guy is.

“For years I’ve been working and traveling alone,

I eat out in restaurants where men wear cologne,

Recognized as a stranger every place that I went,

Sometimes I just close my eyes and begin my descent…”

I’ve been reading that between this album and his last (North Americana released in 2013) that Leif had spent a lot of time in solitude focusing hard on not writing what a man at his point in his career, in his musical style was supposed to write, rather what he felt should be written. That he wanted to  take the time to trust his gut in the writing process as opposed to chasing after songs as he had in the past and what the listener is left with is almost a voyeuristic take on commonplace emotionally charged life events. Almost the take a step back and assess the situation view that many of us need in those times of emotional turmoil. It’s that approach that lends to the honesty of this album and is one of the reasons why it’s been one of my favorites since the release. Because at the root, at least for me, music has always been some sort of coping mechanism, the friend that tells you not necessarily what you want to hear but rather what you need to, when you need to, and Twin Solitude does just that. Bravo Leif, bravo.

“We was in Vancouver Town,

The town that I finally let you down,

You was in some evening gown,

I was wearing jeans,

Sometimes we run alongside each other,

Sometimes babe it’s like there is no other,

Sometimes we make horrible lovers,

Sometimes we’re just mean…

I’m only leaving cause I can’t stay,

I always loved you and I never paid,

I hear that even In LA,

It’s Vancouver Time…”

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