Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Life's Roads: Luke Doucet and the White Falcon's Steel City Trawler

Luke Doucet is a musical memoirst who tells stories of his life and where he's at in it through his songs. But he also tells stories that are universal, stories that almost anybody can relate to (struggles, fears, successes, failures, ideas, lusts). He has the ability to adopt different genres (rock and roll, country or New Wave) depending on what story he is telling. This has resulted in many compelling musical journeys.

On his new album, Steel City Trawler, we find him and his band, White Falcon, living in Hamilton, Ontario (affectionately called Steel City by some, or The Hammer by others). His eleven-song cycle is an energetic journey through his life and his currently adopted city. After working for several years as a solo act (prior to that he was in a Vancouver band called Veal), he decided with his previous Nashville-influenced album, Blood's Too Rich (he was living in Nashville when he recorded it), to venture forth as a band under the name Luke Doucet and the White Falcon (white falcon is the nickname for his Gretsch White Falcon guitar). This coming together as a band may have also influenced this album's crystal-clear sound. All elements, whether they're Doucet's singing or tremendous guitar playing (and he really is an amazing player), backing vocals by his wife Melissa, the drumming of Andrew Scott and the others are given equal weight within the mix. The result is a tremendously approachable album.

Songs such as the playful first track, “Monkeys,” to the slightly naughty “Dirty, Dirty Blonde” (with it's delightful lyric “she may be yellow underneath, but she's a bottle brunette”), all pull you into his mindset. Some deal with the masks we all wear to either push or pull us into each others lives, while others, such as “The Ballad of Ian Curtis” (lead singer of Manchester's Joy Division who hung himself in 1980 just before the US tour that may have broke them wide), look at the price we all pay for exposing ourselves to the world and the demands that it makes upon us. The one cover song here, Gordon Lightfoot's “Sundown,” is given a fine, raucous three-cord rock run through. It's a good selection as it fits perfectly with the self-penned/co-written songs. I only wish they'd played it just a touch faster (giving it an almost punk feel wouldn't have been wrong), but it's a minor quibble.

As an added bonus, David Collier, Canadian alt cartoonist who tends to do 'cartoon essays,' was brought in to do a 'cartoon lyric book.' Through a series of drawings of Luke and his life in Steel City, and snatches of most of the songs' lyrics, Collier adds a nice layer to the album. The 'booklet' is quickly becoming a lost artifact of the music world. As we gradually drop albums and embrace downloadable tracks, I fear we will lose an important, tactile part of the music-buying/listening experience. This is an opinion that Doucet clearly shares, because Collier's contribution is a vital adjunct to the album itself (and yes, I know by constantly calling it an 'album' here I'm dating myself, but as Neil Young recently said about the same word usage, “I'm old school”).

- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is about to launch his first novel, The Empire of Death, at an event in Toronto on Tuesday, October 19, 2010. Details to follow.

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