"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 them was my brother," Leeroy Stagger sings on the title track of his third CD, Depression River. The autobiographical tale (the title refers to Stagger's hometown of Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where his brother drowned) is one of the many reasons why Stagger is being hailed as a rising voice on the alt-country scene.
The opener, "Where I Live," introduces you into Stagger's world of barrooms and no-good women. Other highlights include "Wish You Were The Trees" and the beautiful "Carol," in which Stagger displays a wisdom well beyond his 23 years. And with any luck, "Jealous And Drunk" will be heard by some smart Nashville producer, because it has "big country smash" written all over it.
The only song that doesn't work is "Tired Of Being High," which spends the final half of its seven-minutes-and-thirty-seconds needlessly drenched in feedback. I've heard that done so many times that it's become a cliché, and will never be done better than Neil Young's Tonight's The Night record.
Those who bemoan Steve Earle's shift from hard-core troubadour to political activist will find much to like on Depression River, which will be released on April 3. The general feel of the album – folk-rock tales of hard livin' set to jangle-and-surge guitars and a whiskey-and-nicotine ravaged voice – is very similar to Earle's mid-90s output, like I Feel Alright and El Corazon. Also, some of the quieter numbers, like "Payback" and "One Of The Lucky Ones" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Wilco's debut, A.M.
But it should be remembered that, while Earle wrote those great albums after a handful of ex-wives and a spell in jail on drug and gun charges. Stagger is only 23, and will hopefully have a long, successful career in front of him.