Going it alone after a tremendous period of creative indie pop with The Dears, Murray A. Lightburn begins again with Once Upon a Time in Montréal. He wastes no time in providing introspective and well-studied tracks. Opener Dumpster Gold is the usual loving and lost track that falls back onto its bed of violins and tactful percussion. It is also a golden opportunity for Lightburn to present his vocal appeal, to use that slide acoustic lounge style and present Once Upon a Time in Montréal as exactly what it is. An easy-going, tender articulation of stories from his past that focus on the crooning vocal range Lightburn can utilise.
His vocals, especially the spirited style of No New Deaths Today, has a surprise around every corner. At times channelling what Elvis Costello now relies on, the emotional core of the track depends on his vocal presence. The booming consistency of it, the core it brings to the instrumentals that surround it. Lightburn has that touch, and it means Once Upon a Time in Montréal always has a steadiness to it. Never quite rupturing or expanding on that is more to give Lightburn an eclectic and enjoyable mixture for the future than anything that expands on his earlier work. Often finding itself reliant on string sections and the elated feeling they can often bring, Lightburn makes sure to interject with some changes to the well-trodden path. In The Kingdom of Heaven provides a tremendous example of how, in reservation, that electric weapon can point its way through a track.
Once Upon a Time in Montréal often lends itself to caution. Stripped-back arrangements are as frequent as they are hopeful of catapulting Lightburn to the next steps as a singer-songwriter. The Only One I Want To Hear offers that in as shaky a form as any, with a complete and relentless desire to provide Lightburn with a barebones instrumental. Risks are taken inconsistently, and the decaying heart and booming power of Oh But My Heart Has Never Been Dark is stunning, but the forgettable songs that bookend it are a sign that there is a little room for improvement. Lightburn has sparks of fiery, beautiful musicianship. Collecting memories on Reaching Out For Love feels imitable but misplaced in its desire for tracking memories but being too far through life to make a start.
It is never too late to make that journey. Once Upon a Time in Montréal shows exactly how that comes through. Never confident enough to lean into those jazz and lounge tones, shying away from it more than once on title track Once Upon A Time in Montréal, but more than enough throughout the album to see where Lightburn can take his style next. Touching melodies, a powerful voice that lends itself to those slow nights in the back of some bar on a nondescript night. Those tones are powerful and difficult to capture, but the shining qualities that linger on the occasional track are more than worth the trip through this declaration of love for a lost partner. Go to that title track time and time again for the beautiful nights and sudden spurts of saxophone madness. More of that, and it’d be a golden piece of moved and assured lounge memories.