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Fletcher won 

Water and cigarette lover Jon-Rae Fletcher brings his sitting solo show to Halifax. Shannon Webb-Campbell floats to the sound of his guitar.

Jon-Rae, minus the River, will flood Gus’ Pub with his elated gospel-country tunes on January 12.

“There are so many references to rivers and water in my old songs,” says Jon-Rae Fletcher over the phone from Toronto. “Whether it’s crossing over the river or going into the river. To me it’s about abandonment; letting the water wash over you, getting carried away.”

Whether he’s dubbed the son of a preacher or the Jesus Christ of alternative country, Fletcher feels music flow through his veins. The musical foundation of his band, the River, is built on rock ’n’ roll, but don’t label these wayward drunken hymns alt-country.

“The only reason I dislike labelling our music alt-country is folks then expect the music to sound like it,” says Fletcher. “Which it doesn’t. If alt-country actually meant an alternative to country, I guess that’s what we are. Our sound would best be described by referring to what we love and what we are inspired by. It’s just good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.”

Inspiration could be cancerous for Fletcher—smoking cigarettes is his muse.

“Most of my recent songs have been written while smoking,” he says. “During my break I’ll sit down, smoke, and go over a hundred different simple tunes. I always write the words last, squeezing and stretching them to match the melody and metre. Depending on if I have an idea, I’ll spend some time with it. Whether I’m working on a song about a promiscuous woman in a small, gossipy town or I’ll jump into it with no direction and it might become a song about how self-centered western culture is.

“I bring the songs finished to the band,” says Fetcher. “Together we round off the corners, fluff up the pillows, put lipstick and rouge on it. Sometimes the songs come out a little more together, other times they are completely different songs. It tends to vary.”

Jon-Rae and the River have released eight albums. The latest, Old Songs for the New Town, rates as “not too shabby” in Fletcher’s books. He ranks The Road as their best effort, Now Then as their worst, their self-titled and Just A Closer Walk as good, Then Again as sub-par and Soul Fuck as a joke.

The band is currently scrounging up enough cash to record their next full-length. “We have a bunch of songs, so we’ve booked some studio time for late February,” Fletcher says. “Our album will probably be finished by mid-summer.”

In contrast to the River’s ever-expanding gospel chorus (which has stretched to a 17-piece choir in past performances) show-goers can expect an intimate and stripped-down show at Gus’ Pub.

“I started performing my songs by myself,” Fletcher says. “So I’m pretty comfortable yelling my throat away behind an acoustic guitar solo or an electric guitar with a band. The difference is reckless abandon compared to introspective strain. Basically when I play with a band I stand up and when I play alone I sit.”

Decked out in dark thick-rimmed glasses and button-down plaid shirts, Fletcher appears to be a modest chap. He’s lived across Canada; his birth certificate reads Saskatoon, but he hangs his hat in Toronto.

“There is such a bustle here, which can seem a little overwhelming,” he says. “But it also can be really exciting. Every aspect of the music side of my life, including the shows, press and crowd response, has increased in pace by three times. Why people have the hate-on for Toronto makes no sense to me. Maybe they haven’t spent any real time here.”

In spite of his music’s religious connotations and family background, Fletcher has ditched his missionary zeal. Since his days attending a Christian high school he has washed his hands of religion and continues to refine his future aspirations.

“I hope to raise children, get tattoos and live in the country,” he says. “Perhaps record an album in two months, record an album in two hours, own a Harley-Davidson and tour the world without spending a penny.”

Jon-Rae Fletcher w/Ninja Highscool and The Maynards, January 12 at Gus’ Pub, 10pm, $5

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