Long WinterSelf Released
By Cole Faulkner
As a born and bred Vancouverite, I was more than a little surprised to learn that I hadn’t been introduced to Jesse LeBourdais sooner. LeBourdais and his troupe plays a loose brand of full-band bluegrass folk-punk that plays out as so much more than that cliched “guy with his guitar” description the punk scene so liberally throws around. Combining all elements of acoustic instruments, pianos and plugged in guitars, LeBourdais commands a tight, cohesive set assembled around captivating middle-class lyricism. His latest effort, Long Winter, exists at a very personal level, extending an empathetic hand to those willing to admit their own flaws and mistakes.
Jesse LeBourdais’ optimistic, organic musicianship shines bright from the get go. After “Welcome” initially trots in on the hoofs of amble banjo strings, “Breath In/Out” gets to the crux of Lebourdais’ hopeful message. “Breathing out is easy, it means that you are done / it’s taking in the air that demands a little more,” challenges Bourdais, moments later inciting a ruckus upon concluding the lines “you’ve got to want to live, to see your next breath finish what it starts.” The track teeters between reflective acoustic regress and the excitement laid down by hurried, intermittent drum beats. “I’ll know I’ve lived loud enough to be heard after I’m gone,” belts LeBourdais, communicating our struggle to leave a footprint within a forgetful world.
As Long Winter progresses, LeBourdais instrumental syntheses manages a lasting sense of sincerity. The acoustic bluegrass tag identified with the band starts to really make sense with “Take Me Home.” The product of skillfully interwoven mandolin, piano and guitar underly Lebourdais honest account of life’s cuts and bruises. By about the mid-song marker a few bandmates jump in to vocally back LeBourdais, echoing his reflective demeanor up until the final chorus hits. “But this town will swallow you whole, please take me home, please take me home,” chimes the band with the conviction of lifelong friends huddled together around the intimate glow of a midnight campfire. Long Winter’s best tracks succeed with inviting sing along songs that skirt the clichés of overplayed punk rock anthems.
Perhaps most notable but less obvious is how organically Jesse and his troupe shift between full band compositions and his more stripped down persona. Tracks like “Burnt Out Flame” start out as one and quickly transform into the latter, whereas those like the back hill twanger “The Country I Am From” makes no secret that the band is ready to start in full force. A few country rock tracks like “All But Gone” forcefully strongarm the playlist, countered by minimalist banjo pluckers like “Penance.” Ending with the heart-on-his-sleeve intensity of “The First Time I Screamed,” LeBourdais lays it all out in one big explosive finale, offering up the punk rock equivalent to bending back and howling at the moon.
Long Winter is the type of expertly executed outing that can be listened to without reservation. The music matches the mood and affords listeners to follow along and connect with each heartfelt lyric. In spirit, Jesse Lebourdais is a Canadian Frank Turner. Never afraid to take chances, he sidesteps solo folk-punk clichés and stands uniquely amidst a market saturated by present day icons Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause and Tim Barry. As should be clear, Long Winter is an essential for fans of well-crafted acoustic punk.