When an artist has been around as long as George Usher and making music deserving of wider recognition, one can only hope that with each new album it will finally be the one to gain him or her their due. And when that musician has suffered a setback of any sort, then that desire to see him or her recognized for their accomplishment becomes even more profound.
Consequently, when you pair two veteran artists of the Northeast indie scene and surround them with an assortment of long-serving studio musicians, you get an album that provides all the means necessary to put them front and center. If justice prevails, that ought to be the case with The Last Day of Winter, a surprisingly subdued collaboration that pairs singer/songwriter George Usher with singer Lisa Burns. Although it’s stripped down in its simplicity, it still manages to spotlight the talents of everyone involved, especially the two principals.
Usher in particular has been a steady presence on the New York power pop circuit for a number of years, having released several outstanding, if largely ignored, solo albums. That’s been a disappointment, as anyone who’s followed Usher’s career will attest. Then again, having a a last name that might have people confusing you with a certain rap singer of the same name might have been a hindrance in the big scheme of things.
Seriously though, Usher’s share of trauma goes well beyond any show business shortcomings. In fact, the album’s origins were a lot less than fortuitous; diagnosed with cancer, Usher underwent a series of draining chemo treatments, with the end result being that he found himself unable to play any instruments or use his hands at all. Determined to still mine his talents, he continued to write, and ultimately recruit singer Lisa Burns to put his efforts to music and help him complete the songs. Once he regained his strength, Usher was able to return to recording, and with the assistance of an all-star cast of supporting musicians — among them, guitarist Dave Schramm (The Schramms), bassist Sal Maida (Sparks), producer Pau Naumann, and engineer Eric Ambel (Del Lords, Nils Lofgren, solo) — he and Burns set about creating an album that’s intimate, personal, and yet still resolute in both its affirmation and assurance.
That dogged determination is apparent even at the outset. The album’s opening track, “Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here”, actually sounds like a long lost Byrds track, circa The Notorious Byrd Brothers, what with its gentle chime and soft harmonies. McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman would no doubt be proud. Mostly though, the duo relegate their songs to the twilight side, be it the dreamy acoustic ballad “Lost in Transition”, the lonesome piano lament “Wasn’t Born to Belong” or the affecting shimmer and sway of “The World That Rested on Your Word”.
In sum, it’s a remarkable effort, not only for the work put in, but indeed, considering the circumstances, for the results that came out. Sensitive and sublime, it could truthfully be said that The Last Day of Winter is indeed an album for all seasons.