A gifted singer, guitarist and songwriter in his early twenties, A.J. Fullerton possesses a talent that belies his age. The Colorado native grew up steeped in blues, and since 2016 has won a remarkable sixteen awards from the Colorado Blues Society. In The Forgiver and the Runaway — his third album — he teams up with Canadian producer Steve Marriner —also a singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and frontman for the band MonkeyJunk — and some stellar supporting musicians that include harmonica players Paul Reddick and Jake Friel.
Fullerton’s vocals are warm, strong and sincere. His songwriting is first-rate. He wrote ten of the songs on this CD — the other two were contributed by Canada’s prolific Colin Linden and harp player J.D. Taylor. Fullerton is an accomplished guitarist, adept at both fingerpicking and slide. But he’s not a showy musician, sometimes choosing instead to accentuate a number with elegant guitar parts that are just right, never overdone.
Like an emanation from a southern church, the gospel-tinged “Remind Me Who I Am Again” kicks off the album deep in the groove with swelling organ, engaging drum patterns and Fullerton’s discerning guitar. His expertise on bottleneck is centre stage in “Healing Takes Time,” a captivating tune with a western slant. “Could’ve Been Mine” hints at Fullerton’s rural roots in a song of heartfelt regret, coloured by harmonica and some masterful old-time piano. His guitar comes back to the fore in the upbeat “Slippin’ Away,” embellished with more excellent keyboards.
In a change of pace, “Say You’ll Stay” features bass-heavy rhythm overlaid with distorted guitar and harp — reminiscent of a scratchy 45 — that gives the number an appealing edge. A raunchy guitar sound accented with tasteful percussion animates the compelling title track, “The Forgiver and the Runaway.” Then after the initial sustained resonance of Fullerton’s guitar, the rhythm heats up in “I Cried,” enhanced with fingerpicking and harmonica.
Catchy percussive guitar and a beefy groove provide the bedrock for “Wish You’d Tell Me” before Fullerton kicks into overdrive, his guitar soaring above it all. “Cherry Red” is augmented with gorgeous piano and Jake Friel’s harp, enlivened with superb drumming. Fullerton picks up his slide again, expertly stinging and skimming through “Never Was,” a rock ‘n’ roll song of regret.
The album concludes with two exquisite numbers, both showcasing Fullerton’s poignant vocals and exceptional guitar work. The train-like rhythm that underpins “Homesick” perfectly enriches this song of loneliness on the road. There’s a trace of rusticity here in Fullerton’s bottleneck prowess. “Hooks in the Water” is a stunning country-blues duet of acoustic-guitar fingerpicking accompanied by harmonica. It’s an atmospheric gem. His vocals are at their best here as he sings of his struggle to find direction.
The Forgiver and the Runaway is an impressive achievement, displaying Fullerton’s breadth of skill and consummate artistry. A splendid musician, A.J. Fullerton is a talent to watch. (Sandra B. Tooze)