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  • Writer's pictureEric Alper

He Sells Sanctuary: Manotick, Ontario Roots Rocker James Leclaire Invites Us To 'Come On In'


James Leclaire


As Bob Dylan figured out long ago, sooner or later we all need shelter from the storm. And that’s exactly what we get on “Come On In,” the highly comforting new single from Manotick, ON roots-rocker James Leclaire.

 

Singing in the grizzled, relatable voice of somebody who’s been there, Leclaire throws open a metaphorical door for us, reassuring us that what lies within is a sanctuary where we can recharge our batteries until we have the strength to make another run at life.

 

Warm yourself from the cold

Shield yourself from the wind

Dry yourself off from the rain, my friend

Oh, it’s time to come on in

Don’t feel shame

Don’t feel sorrow

When the sun sets, life will restart tomorrow

When you’re strong, you can try again

Come on in

 

Beginning with just Leclaire’s vocal over a stark establishing procession of eighth notes played on the guitar, the track gradually flourishes into a lightly swinging anthem that feels like being pulled around the dance floor by a partner who’s well and truly got you.

 

“‘Come On In’ depicts a person helping someone close to them who has hit rock bottom,” the singer-songwriter confirms. “They are inviting them into their home to heal, refresh and recharge. It’s uplifting, hopeful and encouraging, yet painful and relatable. We all need a person who can talk us off that ledge and breathe life into us when we feel as though we are on our last breath.

 

“The only thing here is that I wrote it in a time when everything was fine. Therefore, for it to help others but when I came to record it, I was in a difficult spot and in turn my own words helped me.” You don’t have to hold an advanced degree in armchair psychology to deduce that Leclaire is singing both about and to himself here. “Come On In” was recorded during a fraught period that saw the sudden end of his 23-year marriage—and affected an unexpected sea change in his approach to writing.

 

“My sorrowful songs were always written from a fictional place, or as a witness to others’ pain,” the Renfrew-born artist says. “Now it was my sorrow, my pain, my wound, and it caused my pen to bleed ink and my guitar to cry chords.” 

 

It was a flurry of activity that resulted in a hefty backlog of songs: 68 in total. Leclaire has been releasing one per month over the past 10 months, with the release of “Come On In” supplying the final piece in the puzzle of his first album in nine years and his fourth overall.

 

The new material was produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Phillip Victor Bova at his Bova Sound in Ottawa, with a stellar supporting cast of guest musicians that included guitarist Kevin Breit (Norah Jones), harmonicist Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson/Bob Dylan/Neil Young/Chris Stapleton), JUNO-nominated guitarist/pianist John Fraser Findlay and his longtime friend drummer/guitarist/vocalist Michael Hunter.

 

The title track augments Leclaire’s vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica with electric guitar from Findlay, drums and harmonies by Hunter and bass laid down by Bova himself.

 

To say they’ve been a busy bunch is to put it mildly. Of that aforementioned 68 new songs, a full 38 were captured for posterity between January 2020 and the end of 2023. And the rest are fully written and ready to go. Now that we’ve all been invited to “Come On In,” we may never want to leave.


With change comes challenges. With challenges comes new songs.

 

Like everyone, James has had his share of challenges. He was an energetic and creative child who was always daydreaming and displaying his imagination through acting and drawing. That of course was challenging for James’ academics. He struggled in school, expect in art class, in which he excelled. His imagination really sparked when, at 16 years old, a friend put a guitar in James’ hands. Right from the start, James didn’t take lessons and didn’t want to learn other people’s songs. He wanted to write his own songs, create his own characters and tell his own stories. Although a happy individual, he enjoyed writing about life’s struggles. James would pull from experiences that he saw happen to people around him. Stories of love, determination, cheating, abuse, and heartache. 


“Creating a song from nothing, then performing it with the same passion as the characters you wrote about, and then seeing how those songs touch others, is unbelievably rewarding.” 


After barely graduating high school, James’ drawings got him accepted into an Animation program. This was another huge challenge for James; he was one of the weakest. After a laborious two years he completed the course but due to his skill level he was unhireable on a professional level. Another challenge to face, which he did. After working his day job, James worked on his portfolio at night for a year and a half and eventually squeaked into a position at an animation studio, where again he was the weakest. Challenge accepted. James focused and his skills sharpened. 


While still passionately writing, recording, and performing his own music, James’ storytelling skills, along with his evolving drawing abilities, lead him to a successful career as a Storyboard Artist. His hard work paid off. From there, in 2007 he ended up co-founding Jam Filled Entertainment, an animation studio that now has 700 employees with offices in Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax. 


“Storyboarding has so many similarities to songwriting. The writing, the acting, the timing; all of which kept sharpening my songwriting skills.” 


Shortly after the release of his third solo album in 2015, These Weights, James took a long hiatus from recording and performing music for personal reasons…Reasons he now regrets. But in January 2020, James was slammed with the biggest challenge he had ever faced; his 23 year marriage came to a shocking and devastating end. How did James make it through? James dug deep and wrote songs that were from a place he had never been before. He wrote with new eyes, new ears, and new emotions. His songs now became personal as opposed to observational. 


“My sorrowful songs were always written from a fictional place or as a witness to others pain. Now it was my sorrow, my pain, my wound, and it caused my pen to bleed ink and my guitar to cry chords.” 


That healing process, along with new experiences and eventually a new relationship, caused James’ song writing well to overflow with material that has amounted to a staggering 68 songs. 


James started recording with producer Phillip Victor Bova at Bova Sound in Ottawa and laid down 38 tracks. The new recordings boast the talents of guitarist/mandolinist Kevin Breit(Norah Jones), drummer Ed Toth(Doobie Bros), guitarist/pianist John Fraser Findlay(Juno nominee), harmonicist Mickey Raphael(Nelson/Dylan/Young/Stapleton, etc) and other talented local musicians.


The first single, Things That I Said, was released Aug 4th, 2023 followed by a song a month. By May 3rd 2024,  James completed the first album from this batch with the release of the title track, Come On In. With the down pouring of inspiration he has felt since the 2015 damming, the flood of new material will not reside for a long time. 


The next challenge is to have these songs heard. 


James Leclaire


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