When people think of roots-rock, the Southern half of the USA usually springs to mind. But for the last seven years, singer-songwriter Leeroy Stagger has been spreading his own whiskey-soaked, jean-jacket-sportin’ style of Canuck-bred Americana. Now, as critics and fans gear up for the release of Stagger’s third full-length album, Depression River (Boompa/EMI) in stores today, one thing is evident — Stagger has veered away from his past mainstream pop appeal and run headlong into playing country music with the sweat, tears and swagger of a potent rocker.
Produced by John Ellis (Be Good Tanyas, Long John Baldry), Depression River has the energy, firepower and heartache that has alt-country music fans already comparing it to such classics as Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road and Neil Young’s Harvest. Having garnered a riptide of plaudits internationally – critics have called his voice a “supple instrument,” his songwriting “a perfect blend of road-weary wisdom and youthful energy” and said that his heart “belongs to the melody” – Depression River is probably Leeroy’s finest accomplishment to date. Perfectly showcasing Stagger’s stony wit, his sandpaper voice and an uncanny knack for combining sharp pop smarts with deep country pain, the sound of Depression River is what Stagger refers to as his “true voice”.
But don’t let the album title fool you – Depression River is not a dark record but it is an incredibly raw one. The songs are starkly true, honest and real and it’s somewhat amazing that Stagger has yet to hit his mid-20s.
“Most of what I write is about real life experience,” Stagger explains. “Sometimes mine, sometime not. Either way, they touch on life and death and pain and happiness. Real things, that each one of us experiences almost everyday of our lives.”
Songs like the opener “Where I Live” and “First Time Hurts” reflect the sensibility of an old soul that knows itself a little too well, perhaps better than most. “Jealous and Drunk” is a boot-scootin’ reminder of what it’s like to see the object of past or current affections flirting with someone else and “Lay Down Your Guns” makes you feel good about getting away from things that are, well, not so good.
“A song like “One Of the Lucky Ones” is definitely autobiographical even though the main character is female. That’s just how it came out. Maybe I didn’t want to share that, but I guess I just did,” Stagger laughs.
Perhaps most significantly of all, the album name and title track “Depression River” refers to the small town where Stagger grew up. Where a thin strip of a waterway ran through his family’s backyard. And where Stagger watched his young brother stumble into the river and drown when Stagger himself was just a boy.
It’s these give-it-to-me-straight and sometimes autobiographical lyrics on Depression River that take you to a personal, internal world laid bare — a world where life rocks, punches, twangs and soothes and wakes you back up to remind you that there’s another beer and a pack of smokes waiting on the bar — just for you.