There’s a certain interchangeability amongst the music of many new-generation troubadours that’s simultaneously comforting and disappointing. The good news is that you know exactly what you’re going to get — unless, of course, you listen to music hoping for a little more. Canadian guitarist Luke Doucet, in his third solo outing Broken (And Other Rogue States), seems well aware of these trappings.
Mr. Doucet (who’s also fronted the rock band Veal) uses most of the familiar iconography of the country-tinged singer-songwriter. Lit cigarettes, check; alcohol dependency, check; fugitive from the law, check; affable fuckup who wishes his ex-sweetheart would come back but down deep understands why she won’t, check, check and check. We have an increasingly large pool of artists who cater to these navel-gazers, distracted by the bright, shiny buttons on their western shirts, and it’s hard to prove distinctive as such. With this in mind, it’s a pleasant surprise that Broken (And Other Rogue States) does leave an impression.
Like a Joseph Arthur or Damon Gough, Doucet takes songs that would be perfectly acceptable on an acoustic guitar strummed in a Sunday night coffeehouse showcase, and he infuses them with ornate but unobtrusive production flourishes. Mariachi horns here, string section there. As a guitarist, his fretwork is several steps above his peers’. Any number of influences and references can be picked up, but he is wise enough not to lean too heavily on any one for too long. The result is a more unpredictable album than is typical for the genre.
Moods shift as well in Broken, so that the sincere numbers never bog down in pretension and the smirky songs don’t go so far as to render the underlying emotions inconsequential. Lyrically, Doucet throws out pathos and humor in equal measure, perhaps best exemplified on “It’s Not the Liquor I Miss”: (Little red wagon’s got a new jet engine/ Little red wagon’s got a broken wheel). The words are tough and tangible with enough booze references to warrant a tall glass of water and some aspirin upon a full listen.
Perhaps it’s best that Luke Doucet doesn’t care to reinvent the wheel. A nice, bitter breakup song is a lovely tonic, and Broken (And Other Rogue States) is a pretty fine brand of gin.