Rutledge's roots are in alt-country, and like the best country songwriters he has a knack for lyrics full of doubt and loss, set to jaunty tunes. It's angst you can hum along to. On "Passages," his eighth studio album, Rutledge worked with a new band and producer Chris Stringer (Timber Timbre, the Wooden Sky). Guitar-dominated, but seasoned with piano and strings, the album sometimes achieves an Eagles-y Californian vibe: layered and ambient, with an intoxicating sheen.
There's a languid melancholy to songs like "Captive" and "Weight of the World," while the title track is a wistful love song delivered with Beatles-esque strings. Rutledge has a gift for lyrics that are simultaneously mysterious and vivid, and while his songs are often introspective, they are also fun. He rocks out enjoyably on the spirited, slide guitar-fueled "Good Man" — the first single — and the self-questioning anthem "Chains."
There has always been a strong literary strain in Rutledge's songs, and his latest album ends with "Boats," a track co-written by Booker Prize-winning novelist Michael Ondaatje. But banish any fears that "literary" means "pretentious."
Lyrically and melodically gripping, "Passages" is the musical equivalent of a page-turner.
Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JIllLawless