Though he mostly emotes with a morose mumble instead of a caustic croak, Hayden just might be Canada's answer to Vic Chesnutt: an endearing, love-troubled kook with a penchant for poignant, sometimes darkly humored yarns spun all indie-folk-like. In "Wide Eyes" -- a mournful strings 'n' piano ballad that opens the thirtysomething Ontarian's fifth album -- the bus-riding narrator spots the girl who dumped him waiting at the next stop, so he begs a fellow passenger to pretend she's with him as they disembark in order to make his ex jealous. A former lover endures far worse in the campfire-guitared "Killbear" -- she's mauled by a grizzly in the forest, while her gutless new beau runs away. Elsewhere, pedal steel, harmonica and horns thicken odd tales of combative neighbors, troubled actresses, beautiful ghosts, and, on "Starting Over," a plea for breakup sex. "Come on now, come over to me/Drop your skirt down past your knees/If this is the last we ever meet/Let's go out in style and see," Hayden warbles. Rico Suave he ain't, but Elk-Lake Serenade is still pretty irresistible.


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