Rodney DeCroo delivers his masterpiece with Old Tenement Man

Calgary producer Lorrie Matheson helps West Coast artist bring out his best with latest, inspired collection of songs.

Congratulate Rodney DeCroo on his exceptional new album Old Tenement Man and he almost immediately deflects.

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” the American-born, Vancouver-based artist says before directing the accolades elsewhere.

“That’s as much or more of Lorrie’s doing than mine in many respects.”

The Lorrie of which he speaks is Calgary-based producer Lorrie Matheson, who recorded the West Coast veteran’s seventh full-length at his Arch Audio studio in Inglewood.

DeCroo will return to the neighbourhood Saturday night to help launch the album with a show at the Ironwood, with Matheson opening the evening.

So they’re obviously amazing friends, tied to one another by a bond that …

“I didn’t like him when I first met him,” DeCroo says and laughs heartily.

That, actually, was a good decade-and-a-half ago.

He chalks it up to an misunderstanding, and a result of him “being a totally insecure performer.” Matheson had come out to one of his early shows and someone had told DeCroo that they didn’t think the local artist dug what he was doing — and resentment grew.

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West Coast artist Rodney DeCroo has just released his latest, the Calgary-produced Old Tenement Man.

“And then Lorrie being Lorrie, a few years later he sends me this really nice email about how he was enjoying some of my songs and my poetry,” DeCroo says and laughs again.

“I sent this message back, ‘Blah, blah, blah. You’re just another one of these poseurs.’ I was just a total asshole. And he was like, ‘Oh, sorry to hear you feel that way, Rodney.’ ”

The years, though, have a habit of slipping by and old grudges soon mellow, with the thaw beginning in earnest in large part to a mutual friend, fellow Calgary artist Rae Spoon.

DeCroo had recorded and toured an album with Spoon called Truckers’ Memorial in 2006, and Matheson would go on to produce Spoon on several outings, including their 2008 superioryouareinferior, which DeCroo sums up simply as a “brilliant record.”

“After what I heard Lorrie had done to Rae’s record I just knew that he was the guy to go to,” he says.

DeCroo says he was always wary of giving into the idea of a producer, having done most of his previously albums live, off-the-floor to keep them more “human.”

But Old Tenement Man he says he was ready, helped in large part by the fact that Matheson instinctively knew where he wanted to take things after long discussions about music, and a sonic direction charted through the shorthand of some of DeCroo’s influences including Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and what he calls one of most important records for him “as a person and an artist,” Lou Reed’s New York.

All of those elements are there.

Tenement is, to borrow a phrase, a brilliant record.

It’s a grit-caked, guts-stained guttural work that’s so immediate, alive and honest you’ll hear its heartbeat before you press play, but so timeless that you’d swear you could sing every line on first listen.

It’s astonishing, really, just how classic of a contemporary rock record it is, DeCroo’s age-lined, hard-lived yet somehow still sweet vocals helped along by blue collar instrumentation supplied by his own hand, Matheson and drummer Chris Dadge, with some tasty guest guitar appearances by Tim Leacock and Joe McCaffery.

But, and here we need to return the attention and compliments back to the man, himself, the album is what the album is — brilliant — because of the songs DeCroo brought with him into Arch Audio.

On Tenement and in Tenement he has instilled his best work — from menacing, Stagger Lee-like opener Jack Taylor and the dark, barely restrained Jacob’s Well to the slow, folker Radio and the nursery rhymish Little Hunger, DeCroo means every word, owns every emotion.

That couldn’t be more apparent than on what will probably go down as the songwriter’s defining moment and what is actually the centrepiece of the album, what got it all started, Lou Reed on the Radio.

It is the sound of living in the face of mourning.

The song was inspired by and is directed to a late friend of his, a man who helped DeCroo a great deal when he was dealing with the demons accrued over the first 40 years of his life. Many of which were unleashed, in large part, to a father who returned from Vietnam incredibly damaged, inflicting that upon his family, as he, upon deserting, took them into the B.C. wilderness to escape.

DeCroo’s friend and neighbour, Mark, also an American, who, ironically, fled north to avoid the draft, was instrumental in his recovery, someone who, 15 years his senior, he looked to as a father figure.

“I had no idea how to cope with normal shit,” he says. “I had been drunk or high since I was about 13. And then you throw the PTSD on there, I just no idea how to live.”

One day Mark told DeCroo that he was retiring, was going into his office to officially hand in his papers — his friend couldn’t have been happier for him. Days later the pair were hanging out in Mark’s place next door, when DeCroo, seeking out some coffee opened a cupboard that was stacked with Boost drinks.

The artist jokingly asked if he was going on a diet.

The response: “Oh, I’ve got cancer. I’m going to be dead in three months.”

Soon after, DeCroo found note in his mailbox from Mark telling him that he didn’t want to see him any more. Respecting that wish, unable to even imagine what was going through, he had to listen his friend dying next door.

One night, while on tour, and uncertain of whether or not Mark had passed, DeCroo felt the darkness closing in.

“At one point, I was like, ‘Fuck it. I’m going to get fucking high. I’m going to go buy some fucking dope and just shoot it up. Fuck this.’ You know, the pity train,” he says.

“And then I went, ‘No you asshole. How is that honouring the memory of my friend that helped me through all of this shit?’

“So I dug into this record, man. This record was my way of—”

He pauses. “I made something of it. Don’t give in to your worst demons.”

Rodney DeCroo performs Saturday at the Ironwood. For tickets and reservations call 403-269-5581.