Review: Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons' dazzling new disc

White light, white heat
By CHRIS CONTI  |  December 1, 2010

THE 'TOO MANY DOORS' CREW Swain, Lamb, Redfearn, McCauley, Ryan, and Fletcher.

Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons trump their impressive 2007 debut Bury Your Problems with the forthcoming White Lighter (available December 14 at iTunes and The disc features an all-star array of acclaimed local artists chipping in — and was completed with the aid of fans who helped fund the recording process.

Urban legend claims white lighters are bad luck (cursed, even), and while the characters Joe Fletcher inhabits on White Lighter's tales, filled with lovelorn suckers and woman-izing barflies alike, often ache for the greener pastures just beyond the tracks, narrator and "singing brakeman" Fletcher chugs along with such spirit that the listener can't help but be swept up in each of the 12 tracks. Lyrically, Fletcher bleeds George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash with first-hand accounts of barstool outlaws and the family man blues, while his acoustic skills invite comparisons to Townes Van Zandt. White Lighter incorporates elements of blues, country, and honky-tonk while allowing Fletcher's vivid stories to remain the focal point. White Lighter was recorded at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket and mastered in Nashville; while the new record boasts a more expansive sound and fancier studio digs than its predecessor (which was recorded at a studio "behind 7-Eleven on Smith Street"), it maintains the raw beauty you'd expect from Joe and vastly-talented guests like John McCauley and Chris Dale Ryan of Deer Tick, Alec K. Redfearn, and Brown Bird's David Lamb and MorganEve Swain, to name just a few.

And Fletcher summoned plenty of other friends to perform on the album, including bassist Jack Hanlon, Scott Boutier (who hit the kit for Miracle Legion and Frank Black & the Catholics), and Bryan Minto, who introduced Fletcher to vocalist Lily McCall Costner, hailed as "'White Lighter's true secret weapon.

"Lily raises every song she sings to another place, well beyond anything I envisioned," Fletcher praised.

Costner and Fletcher mesh so well alongside Swain's fiddle on the woozy blues of "Front Porch" and the standout cut "Every Heartbroken Man." Fletcher's familiar drawl arrives with a sneer on the line, "By the age of five I realized that daddy doesn't always wear his ring." And we can envision the beer hall choir singing along on "Drunk & Single (for George Jones)," with the hook, "When I'm drunk, I'm single — and there's no two ways about it/You try talkin' sense to me but I've lived all my life without it." Redfearn's accordion and Swain's fiddle accompany McCauley and Fletcher's howling on the album closer "Too Many Doors." My favorites are the first two tracks, the beautiful "Say What You Will" and the breakneck foot-stomper "Ambulances," as Minto's harmonica screams like a steaming locomotive. Give this one a spin and try to remain stationary.

"I knew I wanted a pure-sounding record with nothing fake on it. I don't get dazzled by the endless possibilities of the studio," he told me earlier this week. "The records I enjoy listening to are all about the sound of people playing together in a room, so that is what we did and that is how White Lighter sounds."

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