AJ Fullerton – The Forgiver and the Runaway | Album Review

AJ Fullerton – The Forgiver and the Runaway

VizzTone Label Group VT-AJF001

12 songs – 46 minutes


A 16-time winner of the Colorado Blues Society’s Members Choice Awards, guitarist AJ Fullerton has been making a name internationally in recent years, recording albums in partnership with harp player Jake Friel, but attains new heights with this blues/roots CD, which was recorded in Toronto under the direction of MonkeyJunk front man Steve Marriner.

Based out the rugged, rural southwestern corner of the Centennial State, Fullerton’s a rich, melismatic tenor with a laid-back, behind-the-beat delivery. Gifted in both slide and fingerpicking techniques, he penned ten of the 12 tunes on this one, hooking listeners with a light touch to open and then building in intensity throughout.

This is AJ’s second solo venture following his 2017 release Kalamath. Recently, he produced She Ain’t Here: A Tribute to R.L. Burnside for fellow Colorado artist Grant Sabin and released the eponymous Fullerton & Friel, both in 2020. It was recorded at Baldwin Street Studio in Toronto and mixed at Signal Path Studios in an Ottawa suburb a few months prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Fullerton plays acoustic, electric and 12-string guitars and banjo here backed here by several of the top musicians in Ontario.

The lineup includes Friel and Paul Reddick on harmonica with Jesse O’Brien on keys and a rhythm section composed of Glenn Milchem on drums and Anna Ruddick on bass. Marriner lends a hand on bass, baritone and electric guitars, Hammond organ and harp with Aaron Knight and Matt Sobb adding percussion, Aaron Goldstein pedal steel and Chantal Hendricks and The Marrinaires providing backing vocals.

Fullerton eases into action with the melodic ballad “Remind Me Who I Am Again” to open. It’s a plea for help re-establishing himself after being on the road for far too long, robbing him of his identity. O’Brien’s keys sweeten the message, which becomes more optimistic after the break. The message continues in “Healing Takes Time,” propulsive, medium-paced shuffle that offers up thanks to the singer’s lady for the help she’s delivered along the way.

The rootsy “Could’ve Been Mine” comes across with a slight country feel and deals with the reality that a relationship has gone from good to worse and that the singer’s responsible for putting it in irreconcilable ruin. Things heat up quickly with “Say You’ll Stay,” a rocker that features Friel and a gospel feel thanks to choral accompaniment, before things get gritty with the title tune, “The Forgiver & the Runaway,” which comes across with a Gulf Coast feel as AJ lays down gritty guitar runs that are counterpoint to the driving rhythm.

Fullerton’s heart’s broken once again in the roots rocker, “I Cried,” which opens with a slight psychedelic, Middle Eastern feel. This time, he feels betrayed his tears are flowing because his lady has been cheating and is now gone. The funk kicks in for “Wish You’d Tell Me,” which is aided by some stellar fretwork, before AJ launches into a cover of “Cherry Red” – not the Big Joe Turner classic, but an original penned by JD Taylor and Tyler Goodson of Memphis-based Little Boys Blue.

Two more originals — “Never Was,” which revisits the break-up as it wishes the relationship had never happened, and “Homesick,” another lament about being away from home too long – precede a cover of Colin Linden’s “Hooks in the Water” — on which Reddick shines – to bring the action to a close.

There’s a good reason that the good folks of Colorado have honored AJ Fullerton as a vocalist, guitarist, tune-smith and more. With this CD, he should be headed for bigger and better rewards.

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