Ledger’s debut is a prize: pairing his languorous yet captivating voice and lyrics with T Bone Burnett’s production, Ledger’s delivered one of this year’s unexpected delights. The partnership drew this comment from Ledger – “I think we’re each attracted to the more sinister aspects of folk and roots music, and we each have a desire to keep music alive while finding a way to make something new out of it.” You get an album that seems at first listen, a near conventional traditional Country album, but starts revealing some shadowy corners and wider genre sensibilities as you become acquainted.
Burnett has let the voice do the talking and what a siren to follow. Over 11 songs the sound swings from straight Buck Owens (“Starlight”) through to 70s British pop with sci-fi images (“Electric Fantasy”). Burnett’s assembled band played the 2009 Grammy winning Raising Sand for Alison Kraus and Robert Plant. Their accomplished playing here is measured and varied.
“Imagining Raindrops” is standard 60s Country with a slow acoustic rhythm behind the rich baritone and Russell Pahl’s pedal steel. (“I’m Gonna Get Over This”) Some Day could be an Elvis song from one of his 60s GI movies. (The only trouble I have with this interposition is imagining Ledger ever flashing a winning smile. Frankly, he’s far too cool for that). “Skip A Rope” was a 1968 hit for Henson Cargill, which now seems ahead of its time with its tale of morality: “Cheat on your taxes, don’t be a fool, Now what was that they said about a Golden Rule? Never mind the rules, just play to win, And hate your neighbour for the shade of his skin”. Ledger’s version is a faithful rendition with the same important observations over 50 years later.
The more intriguing track “Invisible Blue” elevates this whole release from accomplished pastiche to arresting. His vocal is a deep, wistful croon backed by the sound of pedal steel and twangy guitar signatures; you feel his utter heartbreak. Deep in this noir landscape comes “Nobody Knows”. His melancholic delivery hits hard: “Nobody knows where the lonely goes after the last drink of wine…but I know ‘cause I’m nobody”. Marc Ribot’s electric guitar steps out from the shadows and deftly picks a way to a sombre conclusion. “Tell Me A Lie” demonstrates Ledger’s range and tenderness: “Tell me a lie, it wouldn’t be your first…” Another lugubrious heartbreaker where the sustained ending note is pure Elvis.
Ledger has his own style and he’s found a brilliant partner to extract and polish this sound in Burnett. This is nigh on three quarters of an hour of bliss.