Greetings, music lovers. Allow us to draw attention to the new slab by the eminent and hirsute Steeltown reprobate, Lee Harvey Osmond, aka Tom Wilson aka One of Three Rodeo Kings aka that large, melodic growling man from the former Junkhouse. This record is called “Beautiful Scars,” as in: “Man, that scar is beautiful,” or “She has a beautiful scar right here...” or “My scar is beautiful. It reminds me of that time I didn’t die.” The humanity of the album-- produced by Michael Timmins in the intimacy of his Toronto Roncesvalle studio-- is like the warmth of blood that rushes to the cut: a sudden alive jolt in the middle of peril and uncertainty; a suspension of possibility that anything can happen next. Redolent with swooning horns and guitars that bob and weave, LHO’s voice-- forever the hallmark of his sound, which spans over three decades of work-- sounds, here, like a warm hand to the forehead, an arm on the arm of the stricken, a comforting growl at the heart of a screaming world. At once evoking Howlin’ Wolf, Mike Scott and Roy Loney, “Beautiful Scars” bends and twists and stretches and squeezes LHO’s deep baritone, the producer treating it as if caged in a transistor radio, bathed in echo from above, or sunk in the muck of distortion. The strength of the songs notwithstanding, “Beautiful Scars” is a fascinating vocal journey to rank among the great sonic Canadian records of our time.
Through the truncheon swing of “Loser for your Love” to the haunting balladry of “Come and Go” to the morose beauty of “Burning in My Bed” to the exotic fusion of the album’s penultimate track, “Black Spruce,” “Beautiful Scars” journeys between the quiet, smouldering, raging, moving and sad. Lyrically, LHO reflects on the mistakes of the singer’s past with the resigned perspective of someone coming through the other side. A song like “Hey, Hey, Hey”-- featuring a thrilling slide guitar piece by Aaron Goldstein-- describes two lovers caught in the throes of personal despair, their “dreams turned to rust,” their lives waiting until “the morning comes and sweeps us both away.” LHO sings: “The world is fucked up. And so are you and I.” It defines an album, and a songwriter, bereft of any choices other than to keep moving for fear of sinking into the mire of a dark past.
This is the 3rd solo album from the Hamilton songwriter-- the progenitor of “Acid Folk,”-- whose previous two albums, “A Quiet Evil” and “The Folk Sinner” were previously long-listed for the Polaris Prize and nominated for a Juno. It’s a dynamic footprint on Canada’s songscape, a deeply personal, but universally affecting, journey across the jagged line of scars and smoothness of skin that surrounds them.