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On a Wednesday night in August 2013, Jerry Leger stepped onto the stage at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, a rite of passage for any aspiring troubadour, Canadian or otherwise, as the likes of Jeff Tweedy and Lucinda Williams would surely admit. The ever-present echo of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ boot heel is audible if you listen hard enough, but what flashed through Jerry’s mind were the long-forgotten singers who often performed on nights like these to crowds barely visible through a low-hanging fog of Export A smoke.

Ghosts seemed to be everywhere. “Buddy Holly came to me in a dream last night,” Jerry felt compelled to disclose at one point. Later, he asked rhetorically if anyone wanted to hear a Hank Williams song and proceeded to play “Six More Miles (To The Graveyard),” dedicating it to his late grandfather, the man who taught him about country music. Perhaps if Jerry hadn’t introduced it, most in the crowd wouldn’t have given a second thought as to whether Jerry had written the song himself, blending in so beautifully as it did with his own material.

Coming off that magical night, Jerry, his band the Situation (James McKie, Dan Mock, Kyle Sullivan) organist Jeff Heisholt, Aaron Comeau on piano and backup vocalists (Carleigh Aikins, Tamara Lindeman, Ivy Mairi) recorded Early Riser, already album number seven in a remarkably young career. It’s the first to be produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, a man who unquestionably knows his way around a song. Jerry’s been building such alliances more and more lately; one of his earliest supporters was Ron Sexsmith, who’s played piano on a couple of Jerry’s previous albums, including the last, Some Folks Know. That record also featured a duet with Serena Ryder, and after his first trip to Nashville, Jerry now counts Jim Lauderdale and other Music City luminaries among his fans.

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