John Lefebvre made his debut CD, the 29-song opus, Psalngs (pronounced songs) while he was out on bail. Unable to leave Los Angeles for an indefinite period of time, after his arrest in 2007 by the US Justice Department, the Canadian-born Lefebvre made the best of what could have been an unpleasant situation. He assembled a dream-team of musicians, guided by legendary Nashville producer Brian Ahern (Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash), spent three weeks putting down live tracks at Village Recorder studios and gave life to a collection of songs that range in tone from romantic to rant and speak to his deepest-held ideals: love, truth, respect and honesty.
The entire project, plus videos of select songs and a 30-minute documentary on the making of Psalngs is available for free download on Lefebvre’s web site: www.Psalngs.com
“Music is like a beautiful painting,” Lefebvre says of his decision to make all of the tracks available at no charge. “I wanted to put it out there for people to enjoy.”
But just who is John Lefebvre?
Though Psalngs is his first recording, Lefebvre’s passion for music took hold when, as a young boy, he sang in the church choir. He studied piano and later took up the guitar. After a drug arrest at 17, he worked in construction, as a taxi driver, a gardener and other odd jobs. He had a daughter, went to law school became a successful attorney, then gave it all up at 45 to busk at the train stations and play in local coffee houses.
Now 57, Lefebvre is hardly the picture of an artist starving for his craft. A few years ago, he and a partner developed a secure online payment and money transfer service that, among other things, streamlined the process for payments to and from online gambling sites. While Lefebvre admits he knew the practice might raise questions, he figured the odds were in his favor, as the company, Neteller, was advertised on gaming outlets alongside global institutions such as Western Union and Citibank. But the Justice Department betted against Neteller, arrested its principals and charged them with criminal conspiracy for transferring gambling proceeds. Lefebvre plead guilty to a felony and he and his partner personally forfeited $100 million.
“I didn’t think it was dishonest or morally reprehensible,” said the outspoken Lefebvre of the operation that is still in business as Neovia Financial, is registered on the Isle of Man, regulated by the United Kingdom, and traded on the London stock Exchange, but does not service the U.S. market. Still, he is cooperating with authorities while he awaits sentencing.
He won’t elaborate on the case or openly discuss his opinions of American justice, but he really doesn’t have to, his songs speak volumes. On tracks such as “Mr. Bully Boy,” “Independence Day,” and “Wounded Knee,” Lefebvre rails against political hypocrisy, bloated government, global warming, addiction and his sense that Western culture is destroying itself. But Psalngs isn’t just a musical expression of Lefebvre’s political opinions and observations, it is also a testament to his romantic and deeply spiritual nature, with many songs such as “Our Town,” “Painted Pony,” “Out of the Water” and “Snow box” devoted to love, humanness, the natural world and a sense of the mystical.
Shortly before his run-in with the U.S. Justice Department, Lefebvre had demoed a handful of songs and a friend suggested bringing in Ahern to more fully develop the tracks. Once Ahern was on board, they assembled some of the finest musicians around to make the final recordings including Jim Keltner (Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, James Taylor) on drums; Dean Parks (Steely Dan, Ricki Lee Jones, Lowell George) on various guitars; Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams) on bass, Greg Leisz (Kraus/Plant, Joni Mitchell) on lap steel, pedal steel, electric 12-string; Matt Rollings (Lyle Lovett Mark Knopfler) keyboards, B3; Mac McAnally (Jimmy Buffet) on acoustic guitar; Patrick Warren (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Chili Peppers) on various keyboards, Al Kooper (Bob Dylan, the Who, Cream) on electric soul guitar and B3: Rosemary Butler (Jackson Browne, James Taylor) on acoustic guitar and backing vocals.
"There really are no words,” Lefebvre says of the experience. “It is almost impossible for me to imagine sitting in the studio with this crowd, much less playing with them, much less having them playing my songs. But after all, they’re just a bunch of ordinary guys with some really great stories to tell.”
With Psalngs complete, and his online business booming, Lefebvre is committing his energy and resources to several noteworthy projects devoted to climate change, conservation and sustainability including Al Gore's Canadian Climate Project, the David Suzuki Foundation, and desmogblog.com a site devoted to “clearing up the PR pollution that clouds climate science." He underwrote the research and writing of the book “Climate Cover-Up,” which is due out this fall through Greystone Books. He is a founding donor of the Vancouver-based Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, and is producing and co-writing the feature film, Savage Night, an adaptation of the ‘50s noir novel by Jim Thompson, author of The Grifters.
And Lefebvre is hopeful that his music will resonate with enough people that he’ll be able to reunite his studio “dream-team” for some tour dates in 2010.