Lachlan Neville may not yet be a household name on the Saskatchewan music scene, but the young artist will undeniably make waves this summer with a couple of major projects that introduce his remarkable work. The Rocanville-based singer songwriter put on a jaw-dropping performance at the Watson District Heritage Museum on Friday night.  

Looking for all the world like a young Gordon Lightfoot, Neville took the stage and immediately took command of the audience with his unassuming manner and his bright and witty observations of the songs, the reactions and the writing process. He shared an almost encyclopedic knowledge of American folk and country song writers, at times paying homage with incredible covers.  

At the heart of the performance were Neville’s own compositions and his delivery of them. The depth and lyrical sophistication of his work goes well beyond his years. The songs had a gypsy spirit of someone who had seen much in his travels and has travelled widely. Places like Brownsville, TX, Arizona, or Cedar Rapids, IA populated his landscapes and seemed like one-time homes instead of imagined landscapes. 

His opening song, “Arizona,” provided an overture reminiscent of Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, but that’s where any comparison ended. Neville’s voice was pitch-perfect and true with a command of volume and dynamic that’s simply uncanny. His vocals reside on a higher register, but there’s nothing frail about the power or the delivery. In his ballad, Robinson Park, a nod to an old Batman comic, his vocals slid from note to note in a fashion that would have impressed Joni Mitchell. 

His originals like “Crooked Ballerina” and “I Can’t Bring Myself to Hurt You Anymore” are haunting and melancholy but never maudlin. In the “Juniper Tree,” a story of self-loathing about being a heart-breaker, touching lines like “bent as a raven’s wing, broke as a stone” resonate with the listener like a line from a familiar classic.  

Equally at home with flat-picking or folk styled finger picking, Neville worked his acoustic with no digital effects, just a true and confident command of the instrument and all its versatility. He put on a clinic with the up-tempo, hammer-on bluegrass barnburner “Reverend Michael Wilson,” a character driven by salvation and sin. 

Neville is a gifted storyteller both in his lyrics and in his audience banter. A proponent of the notion that the best story telling allows the audience to become part of it, Neville launched into “St. Anne’s Reel,” a tribute to “Fox News dads” as he calls it. The politically reflective and ironic “Tear for the President” are clear examples of the lyrics enveloping the audience.  

His covers ran the gamut from Saskatchewan’s Blake Berglund to American folk/rocker James McMurty and Townes Van Zandt. Neville delivered a rendition of Van Zandt’s signature, “Poncho and Lefty,” that left the audience breathless. 

The summer projects for Neville include his appearance at the first Big Flat Folk Fest on July 13 in Eastend, SK. He’ll appear alongside headliner Colter Wall and notables such as Belle Plaine, Blake Berglund, Zachary Lucky and others. Plus, Lachlan Neville’s eponymous first album drops this summer. Give it a listen to discover one of the brightest young songwriting and performing talents you’ll hopefully cross paths with.