2017’s Twin Solitude was an introspective affair, a self-reflective road trip with a sombre geography full of intriguing characters and charismatic landscapes which they populated. Today sees Leif Vollebekk release his fourth album, New Ways, and you may be forgiven for thinking that this approach has been retained when the gorgeous but familiar ‘The Way That You Feel’ gently drifts across your consciousness. It’s slow, sensuous and utterly beguiling, but if the last record addressed what Vollebekk was thinking, this time it’s all about feelings and ‘Never Be Back’ very quickly changes the tone of the record. Vocals are less contemplative all of a sudden and the pump organ motifs are traded in for a more commanding piano. Most significant is the way the timeless atmosphere is challenged by the inclusion of an unexpected R & B rap.
This isn’t the comprehensive shift it may sound like though. On tracks like the short but sweet ‘Phaedrus’, pace is always leisurely and instrumentation economical. This is certainly a Leif Vollebekk design motif we’ve become familiar with, but the album demonstrates an occasional and unexpected shift away from the more traditional rootsy Americana that may have drawn you to the Canadian in the first place. ‘Hot Tears’ maintains this more soulful approach with a jittery percussive element to compliment his expressive vocals.
‘Transatlantic Flight’ is initially a return to what we’re more familiar with but once again, where songs may have previously preserved a more reflective tone Vollebekk this time mixes unexpected ingredients into the composition; the cinematic references and swooning strings develop into a more vivid, jazzy atmosphere. ‘Blood Brother’ is another brilliant, unforeseen shift in direction. It’s a relatively upbeat number with a lo-fi twang provided by the bluesy guitars reminiscent of a Hiss Golden Messenger record and Vollebekk develops a scratchier style over the chorus in place of the more usual seductive tones. These acoustic tones are retained for ‘Change’, but the luscious piano adds a layer of sophistication to the lo-fi musings. On ‘I’m Not Your Lover’ it’s the psychedelic guitar which enhances Vollebekk’s gentle admissions. The impact may not be momentous but it is certainly completely charming and utterly captivating.
These last few songs certainly seem to have moved back towards the shadows, the soulful R & B has been reassembled into a more familiar form but when we close out to the wonderful ‘Apalachee Plain’ with its slide guitar, harmonica and yodelays there is a clear sense that Vollebekk is not completely ready to ditch those evocative Americana ingredients just yet.