A new album by Petunia, the charismatic Canadian country celebrant, is always something to look forward to. This time out he takes the sole album billing, though his band the Vipers are present among a sterling line-up of musicians. Vipers Jimmy Roy on lap steel and guitarist Stephen Nikleva are joined by some of Vancouver’s finest, including Paul Rigby (who played with Petunia on his debut album), JP Carter on trumpet, Kathleen Nisbet on violin and Frank Fairfield on a number of vintage styled instruments and pump organ. All add much to the flavouring of these songs which incorporate elements of traditional country, rockabilly, swing, blues, folk and jazz to create something both original and special.
The album opens with the express rhythmic twang of Runaway Freight Train Heart. It begins a journey over twelve tracks that take in a wide variety of musical stops. All are centred around Petunia’s inventive writing and idiosyncratic vocal style. There’s jazz trumpet on Forgotten Melody. The paean to two wheel travel Bicycle Song is a tight song with lap steel and guitar. More stripped back again is Holy Budge Winters which is just acoustic with steel, violin and pump organ on the strange tale of Budge. It is a perfect example of Petunia’s individual and idiosyncratic vocal delivery that makes him immediately identifiable and special.
Further down the line there is a love song in Lucille and the intimate title track that is just Petunia and his acoustic guitar which is more than enough to give the song its heart. Things kick up again with The One Thing with guitars and trumpet topping the focused rhythm section, which is solid throughout. Gunned Down is a sombre balled of imminent death delivered in a suitable musical setting. They Almost Had Me Believing is another song with attitude, while the album closes with Teardrops Rolling, a song that bookends the album with a twangy tone that relates back to the last album as well as to the opening track and to the idea of moving on. There is an additional unnamed track at the end of the album whose subject is difficult to define as it’s not sung in English but has a nice relaxed jazzy feel to it.
The songs are all credited to R. Fortugno, which is the name that can be found on Petunia’s legal documents, but his nom-de-plume Petunia suits him best. He certainly flowers on this album. He co-produced the album with Phil Sgriccia and it has a rich warm and diverse sound that is filled with quirky elements that are peculiar to Petunia. If you’re coming from the Rascal Flatts or even Garth Brooks perspective, then it’s likely that Petunia is not the one for you. But anyone who likes something a bit more intrinsically interesting, whose genesis is in the broad based music of earlier times, will find that this music may take some time to get to know its inspirations and intentions, but then it will be inside of you too and have you coming back for more.