Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Leeroy Stagger + Dennis Ellsworth The Musician, Leicester Sunday 14th July 2013

Just over a week after Ruth Moody and the Good Lovelies shared a gig in Oxford, the summer of Canadian touring artists took a gender switch as this time the guys had the limelight for what was effectively a double billed Leicester show. From either side of the vast Canadian nation, Dennis Ellsworth, a Prince Edward Island native, represented the Atlantic Provinces with Leeroy Stagger hailing from over 4000 miles further  west in British Columbia. While the contrast continued in their method of onstage delivery, you couldn’t split the exceptional quality that emanated from both artists.

Dennis Ellsworth
Dennis Ellsworth had the formal opening slot and reverted back to his solo set after having a blast with his hastily assembled band for the Maverick Festival and the Kelvedon gig. Dennis has been busy during this, his second, UK visit attempting to raise a profile which has been made easier by promoting a first class album DUSK DREAMS full of fine songs showcasing his singer-songwriter talent. Delivered in a style which could be best described as reassuringly dark, those privileged to be present on this splendid evening were treated to some of the album’s gems, some material from his honky tonk side project Haunted Hearts and a preview of an upcoming release.

Alluding to differences between the London area of the same name and the PEI neighbourhood which served as the song’s origin, ‘Park Royal’ re-confirmed its status as one of the album’s best tracks with the live version. A similar line could be adapted to the John Smith co-write ‘Perfect Storm’ with all the elegance of the studio version crossing over to Dennis delivering it with the aid of just an acoustic guitar. ‘Electric Stars’, ‘Clear Your Mind’ and ‘Messed up Kind of Way’ completed the current album offering with the mood changing ‘Happiness’ giving a brief glimpse of what will be available in the not too distant future, Perhaps the most poignant moment from Dennis’s set was his tribute to a late friend ‘It’s Gonna Be Strange’ showing the depth of sincerity that exists amongst his dry humour. The good news is that this is likely to be just the start of Dennis Ellsworth entertaining UK audiences and with the next record being on the brink of release, the wait for a follow up visit shouldn’t be too long.

This wasn’t the last we saw of Dennis as Leeroy Stagger invited him back on stage to help with the evening’s final song,  a cover of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ by fellow Canadian Neil Young. This brought to a close a storming set by Leeroy and his band, consisting of Nick Stecz on drums/percussion, Jon Lent on bass and Evan Uschenko on guitar/mandola. While there were quite a few rocking numbers from the excellent new album TRUTH BE SOLD, it was interesting to note that Evan switched to the more roots orientated instrument for a couple of new yet to be released songs, ‘Carolina’ and ‘Ten Long Years’. These have been put together in co-ordination with their UK release label Clubhouse Records in between dates on this UK tour to promote the latest album.

Leeroy Stagger
Within  a couple of songs into his impressive set, Leeroy understandably was keen to showcase the new record with first up ‘Goodnight Berlin’ before following later in the gig with the excellent ‘Mister’, ‘ESP’ and ‘Sold Me Down the River’. These and a load of older songs are classic alt-country cuts that demonstrate why over the last ten years Leeroy has been a much sought after talent for collaboration with. The bluesy ‘Highway is My Home’ showed one side of his song direction while the evocative ‘Radiant Land’ lent towards a more acoustic angle along with possessing an innate ability to capture a memorable tune.

Leeroy informed the crowd of his previous Leicester visit when supporting a heavy metal band and at times was frank to reveal the importance of conquering his demons, best exemplified in the encore request song ‘A Long Way Home’. The two most recent albums which form the bulk of Leeroy’s live shows highlight the stellar form he is in at the moment and the proof on offer tonight will only add to the growing list of favourable reviews. Clubhouse Records have to be commended for adding such an immense talent to their roster and enabling him to hopefully prosper in the UK. 

As with the abundance of Canadian female roots talent, the male contingent offering a range of sounds from a folk bias right through to straight forward alt-country rock is of an equally high stature and a welcome addition to the UK scene. Whether live or on record, Dennis Ellsworth and Leeroy Stagger are worthy ambassadors for Canada’s musical export and their continued presence in the UK will only help raise standards over here. 

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