We last heard from Leeroy Stagger on his 2006 disc Depression River, a modern day country rock masterpiece. Stagger synthesized Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, and Neil Young into his own unique take on the alternative country genre teeming with sprawling electric guitars, twang, and heart. Since then, he’s joined the folk super group Easton, Stagger, Phillips, which put out last year’s the excellent One For the Ditch, and toured much of the U.S. and Europe. Whether it’s his new found sobriety or just a maturing artist finding his voice, Everything Is Real may just be his best record yet. Bristling with confidence, the concise 11 song record moves through some of Stagger’s best and most affecting work.
It begins with the catchy “Petrified World”, which will have you singing along with its catchy na-na-na’s and chiming electric guitars. Stagger also re-interprets several songs from the One For the Ditch record. Whereas the ESP versions were lightly rendered acoustic ballads, the Everything Is Real versions are spiced up considerably. “Hell of a Life” undergoes perhaps the most dramatic reinterpretation with its Rolling Stones meets Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers stomp, trading in the lilting vocal of the original in for a Mick Jagger like snarl. Though it’s a startling transformation for the song, it works. “Red Bandana” is the best of the re-interpreted songs, as Stagger builds the song into a stirringly soulful ballad reminiscent of Ryan Adam’s better work (read: Whiskeytown).
Later in the record, Stagger stacks the one true punk rocker on the record, the title track, next to the most country song on the record “Snowing In Nashville”. The former is a statement, a manifesto if you will, propelled by a chugging electric guitar and the chorus of “everything is real/ everything’s okay”. The latter is a wandering ballad about missing a girl and being stuck in Nashville. As the song reaches its emotional apex, Stagger sings “cause the neon lights aren’t enough to hold me/ and baby I’m tired of getting screwed/ I’ve got the pedal to the metal/ heading north out of Tennessee/ and baby I’m missing you”. And moreover you believe him. Though vocally more akin to Ryan Adams, Stagger has the blue collar appeal of Patterson Hood, Ben Nichols, or Craig Finn, the kind of conviction that’s worth tuning into.
RIYL: Steve Earle, Whiskeytown, Wilco, the Jayhawks
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd