Echoes of the blues

John Rutherford begins his solo Broadcast

John Rutherford has been busy. As a guitarist you may know him from ramshackle folk duo No Guff or as part of the Highwater Jug Band. If that weren’t enough he has spent every weekend for the last two months crossing the province as part of an Alberta-wide CD release extravaganza for his solo debut Echo Broadcast . For a man who has been working on this batch of songs for about three years it would seem that “release” is the operative word.

“It’s just really getting that live interaction with that audience where you put your songs out on the stage and you sing them from your heart and you wear them really specifically because you are standing right in front of these people” he says. “It’s just a really magical experience to be able to look at the audiences and try to be able to pull it off.”

By all accounts he’s pulling it off. With the help of the album’s producer Lorrie Matheson Rutherford assembled a crack backing band of Calgary all-stars and he’s got his songs to a point where he’s comfortable with them but they’re still evolving. More importantly Rutherford has the confidence he needs to attack the material onstage alone or with full-band bravado.

“I’ve slowly worked myself into wanting and feeling a desire to take full ownership of my material and what I’m trying to say — take the credit take the blame” says Rutherford.

It’s an attitude that proved essential to the process of making Echo Broadcast . One listen to the burning low-key delivery and Tom Waits-style monologuing is enough to get you interested but as the album unfolds it becomes clear that this isn’t just a collection of songs with a bluesy ear for nostalgia. This is the music of a man who is laying himself bare in ways you wouldn’t have expected.

“I’m still learning a bit about expressing myself and about the magic and thrill of trying to expose yourself and your feelings and your stories” says Rutherford. “I started [a few of these songs] with a big idea and as they were written the idea crystallized and the story crystallized in a way that I realized how important the story was to me and my life. It was just not a focused or carefully thought out emotion or experience until I finished the song and had a chance to step back from it.”

The fact that Echo Broadcast proves to be so personal is made all the more apropos by the fact that Rutherford is playing the blues. It’s a genre that is only enhanced by raw emotional honesty and smoky delivery. The problem with the blues though is that while as a music form it’s infinitely relevant it’s often viewed as rock’s dusty dated older uncle. Between the purists who are only interested in solo-heavy 12-bar blues and younger generations of music fans who don’t care about Muddy Waters contemporizing the blues can be an epic task. Echo Broadcast does an impressive job of pushing the roots of the blues through a modern sensibility and pulling it out the other side without sterilizing the emotion. While Rutherford agrees with that assessment of the album he admits that it was almost an unconscious result.

“I’m really a blues artist” he says “and my interest in blues came up very early in my life. So I have always identified myself with the blues and I’ve always been categorized by myself or by others as a blues guitar player or a blues player. But my record collection and my taste in music goes way beyond blues.”

“I don’t feel like I’m being completely truthful if I just try to make a traditional blues record or copy an old blues sound” Rutherford continues. “I’m living in 2010. I’m living recording and working in this time and all of these influences come into play and I’m acknowledging them all and hopefully understanding the past and coming into the future.”