Keep music live was a well known sticker of yore. In this post-digital age there seems to be little danger of that not happening. Not only are live music ticket sales still buoyant but many of today's recording artists are going back to the old school in setting down their songs in stone. And doing it, by and large, live.
Montreal singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk is but another convert to the old ways. Not only did he record to tape, he did much of it live in the studio. For him, "The tape sounds good, and lightly compresses the drums and piano. It just makes everything gel together immediately. Playing live means everyone is listening to each other in the moment. For me, that beats everyone recording one at-a-time trying to perfect their own part."
It's this immediacy that makes Twin Solitude such a warm and welcoming record, the overall sound coming at you as if you are in a small, intimate venue, just a few feet away from the band. Moreover, it appears it was written very quickly, the semi-stream of conscious lyrics adding to the authenticity. Throughout Twin Solitude you can hear 'extra' voices in the recording, and the very occasional mis-timed beat, stroke, or pluck. Listen very closely, through the luxuriousness of cans, and you can hear the hum of machines.
Lead track 'Vancouver Time' is the template for much of the album. Medium-slow in tempo, its shifting yet simple piano sequences are accompanied by a drum rim, with added occasional mini-outbursts of strings (courtesy of hip and happening female strings duo Chargaux – who recently featured on Kendrick Lamar's 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe'), overdubbed bass and other keyboard parts, and half-remembered lyrical fragments that make up some kind of story between two lovers and the Pacific Northwest that clearly is awe-inspiring for him. Here, and most elsewhere, it's held together by Vollebekk's voice; a bit Tom Waits, if less abused sounding, but still raw, and passionate in a gently understated soul-jazz fashion. A little sad and resigned maybe, but still crackling with life.
"You was up to something, I was up to nothing/It was bound to happen anyway", he sings at the beginning of 'All Night Sedans', accompanied by just a Wurlitzer, drums and bass. Album highlight 'Elegy' continues the late-night vibe and contains the most memorable melody of all the songs here, as Vollebekk pulls out the stops in creating a minor lyrical masterpiece, full of resonating and poetic one liners and vivid couplets: "Things are only revealed in the light that is given/Oh, to be freed from the pardon when all else is forgiven", sings Vollebekk.
Elsewhere, Chargaux add some more uber-minimalist strings to the rolling piano-led quasi-gospel and soul groove of 'Into the Ether', again initially recorded with just piano and drums in very close approximation to each other. Here, as elsewhere, there is a deceptively calming trance-like quality to the sounds, such as on 'Big Sky Country', which is allowed to gently meander towards its close.
Despite the relatively straight-forward and small set-up, Vollebekk keeps it nicely varied within a narrow tempo range. Even if that means wittingly or otherwise appropriating, such as on the rhythmic 'Michigan', a song that mirrors the beginning acoustic segment of Led Zeppelin's 'Ramble On', which Vollebekk again wittingly or otherwise alludes to by inserting the lyric “Ramble on” within. And the acoustic guitar-led 'Telluride' takes on a Dylan-esque disposition with the vocal delivery (but don't so many others do that!?).
With 'East of Eden' though, he's very straight-forward about his source. In this case it's Gillian Welch's spiritualist-cultural epic 'I Dream A Highway'. Vollebekk says he found himself singing new verses to the existing rhythm and melody of the song. But, in doing so, has created a new, albeit much shorter version.
Live on stage Vollebekk has an idiosyncratic presence, all jerking energy as he tries to connect with the music, like an old jazzer completely lost in music. And Twin Solitude, whilst inferring a loneliness, is actually about being lost in this music, how it becomes inseparable from both the creator and the listener. It is, if you know instinctively how to make it work, a truly beautiful thing. "Take a look at me now," he repeats at the end of each verse of 'Elegy'. I do, with some admiration.