Hayden goes country (sort of) on The Place Where We Lived

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      The Place Where We Lived (Hardwood)

      Hayden goes country! Well, okay, not quite, but backed by members of Cuff the Duke, the Ontario tunesmith takes a few steps in that direction on The Place Where We Lived, the surprisingly quick (16 months!) follow-up to last year’s fine In Field & Town. The most obvious nod toward Nashville is a short but gorgeous instrumental, “The Valley”, in which keening steel guitar and harmonica weep softly over gentle acoustic-guitar and banjo picking. Elsewhere, “Let’s Break Up” belies its theme with a jaunty two-step beat and a tunefully twangy guitar solo.

      Paul Hayden Desser’s latest isn’t all about unironic John Deere caps and boot-cut Wranglers. “Dilapidated Heart”, for example, boasts some off-the-rails electric six-string work that would make Crazy Horse (the band, not the Oglala Sioux warrior) sit up and take notice.

      Mostly, though, it’s business as usual—which, in Hayden’s case, isn’t a bad thing at all. He has been putting out records for 15 years, and each of them has been excellent, but Desser remains criminally underrated. Apart from a pair of Juno nominations 10 years ago (for best new solo artist and best alternative album—he lost in both categories), the guy can’t even get his due from the Canadian music industry, which should really know better.

      The Place Where We Lived is unlikely to rescue Hayden from cult status. The disc doesn’t have any obvious potential hits on the order of “Where and When” (from In Field & Town) or “Home by Saturday” (from 2004’s Elk-Lake Serenade). Even so, the already initiated will find much to love, including the title track, a tender portrait of an over-and-done relationship told through a description of the couple’s former home. Equally poignant is the album-closing “Let It Last”, a spare lament to sad but indelible memories that owes part of its heart-searing appeal to Australian songbird Holly Throsby, who contributes stirring harmony vocals.

      Maybe Hayden is destined to remain a semi-obscure figure in the great CanCon pantheon, but at the very least he can take comfort in this fact: those who like him like him a lot.

      Download This: “Let’s Break Up”