Toronto's Doug Paisley is simply one of Canada's finest singer-songwriters. Possessed of a weary, wizened voice and an unfailing sense of melody, Paisley writes and performs songs that have the magical effect of sounding lived-in and familiar on first listen.On Strong Feelings, his best record yet, Paisley has crafted a nearly perfect Americana album. Working with a band composed of Bazil Donovan, Gary Craig, Emmett Kelly, and Robbie Grunwald, and featuring Mary Margaret O'Hara and the inimitable Garth Hudson, Paisley could easily have found his delicate songs overwhelmed.
Doug Paisley’s third solo outing Strong Feelings, finds him with a more up-beat and rhythmic band accompaniment than his self-titled debut and its follow up Constant Companion. Garth Hudson of The Band provides keyboards, and Mary Margaret O’Hara makes a couple of delightfully impressionistic vocal appearances, alongside many other stalwarts of the Toronto music scene. The sound that emerges has one foot firmly in the best singer songwriter sounds of the 60s and 70s but what emerges is real and vibrant and contemporary.
Doug Paisley is one of the finest, fastest pickers in Toronto. But the singer/songwriter refrains from letting his fingers fly all over his third album. Instead, front and centre are the songs themselves: concise, minimalist downtempo country, replete with Garth Hudson's warm, whirring organ lines and stories about relationship regrets, uncertainties and quiet satisfactions.
“Alt-county” has always been something of a misnomer. Ever since Uncle Tupelo came stomping through the gates with a doublewide full of overdrive and twang, it’s always been more about “alt” than “country.” Listen to an Old 97s or Whiskeytown album, and you’ll hear the influence of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard, but you’re just as likely to hear that of The Replacements, or alt-country’s most direct ancestor, Neil Young. A band like Wilco may very well have performed at the Grand Ole Opry – and Neko Case may have been banned from there for life, or so the story goes – but even when rubbing elbows with major Nashville players, it’s still rock music that’s coming out of their speakers.
For Doug Paisley, a tender-hearted stoic from Toronto whose songs land on the sweet spot between Kris Kristofferson and Gordon Lightfoot, the language of country music puts poetry into the mundane heartbreaks and setbacks of daily existence. On his third album Strong Feelings, Paisley seeks refuge in the beauty of the romantic lyrical metaphors that have populated the genre since at least the heyday of Hank Williams. “The ice it breaks the midday sun / in springtime when the river runs,” he sings in “My Love”, one of the album’s most bracingly pretty numbers.
You could never accuse Doug Paisley of not being self-aware. He calls his new album, Strong Feelings, “just 10 new songs,” and if this feels like understatement, well, the Toronto singer-songwriter is the understated type. His folk-rock records, especially 2010’s Constant Companion, have quietly garnered praise, and with good reason. Paisley is a sure-fire voice in country and folk circles, writing songs about busted or breaking relationships, music, mortality, memory, nostalgia, all that stuff that country music has always been fascinated with.
On his third album, Strong Feelings, Canadian roots singer/songwriter Doug Paisley hunkers down into the classic, handsome sounds of the '70s but part of his appeal is not only how his songs conjure a classic feel, but how his his recording does, too. Arguably, Strong Feelings is the strongest evidence of Paisley's skills as a craftsman, both as a writer and record-maker. He has a warm, husky voice and can construct sturdy, handsome songs, but the appeal of Strong Feelings is its ease, how the concise ten-song album feels fresh and familiar, its comfortableness not seeming easy but rather a smooth way to introduce his view.
Toronto's Doug Paisley makes deceptively gentle music, full of sweet country-rock melodies and dark poetry. "The future's burning brightly, but it won't last," he sings on "It's Not Too Late (To Say Goodbye)," echoing Harvest-era Neil Young. The Band's Garth Hudson – a key player on Paisley's last LP – returns, with organ clouds that conjure clapboard churches and circus tents.
Doug Paisley, by virtue of his relatively plain sound, poses a small conundrum. Really, he’s just an unvarnished country everyman, his music plaintive enough that it need not be studied particularly closely. Understand that Paisley, a lefty from Toronto with no biological relation to Brad, builds just from guitar and voice. Anyhow, the occasional “alt country” description placed on Paisley seems that much more inappropriate upon the reissue of Uncle Tupelo’s 1990 classic of the form, No Depression, which is practically Pearl Jam by comparison.
Sweet, concise and flush with emotional effervescence, the ten tunes that adorn Doug Paisley’s brilliant third album further affirm the fact that this savvy singer/songwriter may well be pop’s next great hope. A native of Toronto, Paisley takes an everyman approach that combines a soft strum with an emphatic delivery, mining the kind of songs that make a first listen feel far more like the twentieth. And even though the material can often be unassuming to a fault, it resonates in ways that are both resilient and refreshing.