With a light strum of an acoustic guitar and a colorful sparkle of lap steel, “Can’t Stop Thinking” welcomes us to the full-scale cinematic journey that is Norm Brunet’s new album It Don’t Get Better Than This, a magnificent follow up to 2016’s Me and My Guitar and a very strong contender for best album of the year. Brunet’s voice weaves between the delicate textures created by the string dueling with elegant nimbleness before coming undone from the emotional pressure of his intimate lyrics. It’s a terrific way to start a record and an excellent intro for unfamiliar listeners to get acquainted with Brunet’s signature style.

“Pour Me Another One” follows behind “Can’t Stop Thinking” with a mischievous swing that recalls some of country music’s most notorious outlaws. It partners well with the cathartic title, which grinds away at its central chorus with the vigor of inhuman heavy machinery but still manages to maintain a credible evocativeness that ties more to humanity than it does artificiality. The rousing ballad “I Will” reins the vibe in a bit by making good use of Brunet’s more contemplative side and highlighting his vocal range. It’s hard to have a favorite song from this album, but “I Will” came pretty close for me.

“Like Out of A Dream” kicks into gear with a familiar, John Cougar-inspired guitar riff and turns the heat back up on It Don’t Get Better Than This just when the music is starting to feel a little blue. “Good Times and Tan Lines” takes it a step further into an all-out Gulf style jam that is a far cry from the elegiac dirge of “I Will.” “She’s Afraid To Stay” throws another handful of slow tempo magic in our direction.

“Put Some Love Back in My Life” and it’s black and white successor “Out of The Blue” shake us up with a tizzy of sharply effective harmonies that complement each other. “Heartbreaker Girl” brings It Don’t Get Better Than This to a conclusion with the most sizzling guitar part of the entire record and leaves listeners aching for more of these ultra-cool rhythms that are unrivaled in their poise.

One part plaintive observations and another introspective admissions, It Don’t Get Better Than This is an album that goes well beyond living up to its title. In its ten ambitiously crafted tracks it produces a bittersweet aftertaste that inspires a lot of deep thinking for anyone within earshot. This is without question one of the most intrepidly original contributions made to the greater Canadian songbook in years. There’s no need for debate; Norm Brunet is indisputably Canada’s premier singer/songwriter.

Thomas Patton, III approved by Sebastian Cole