One of the great things about this musical grab bag we call Americana – we’re able to pour a bunch of vastly different styles into it. If a song has a certain “feel” to it – whether it be musically, lyrically, or just a certain aesthetic – we’ll give it a good listen and see what it does for us. Canadian singer-songwriter Lucette’s 2014 debut, Black Is The Color, while quirky and diverse, was within striking distance of what we’d call indie country. Her latest, Deluxe Hotel Room, has a far different feel, but the different instrumentation, combined with her always-tight songwriting, makes for an interesting, exciting listen.
The album starts off with the title cut, a piano-driven quiet storm that finds the singer momentarily lurking in luxury, yet with little she can call her own: “In a deluxe hotel room/Hundred dollars to my name.” It’s a different look at the music business than we’re used to. Is she successful at the moment? Sure, but not without sacrifice: “Traded in my body/Thinking I could make my bed.” There’s glamour in a young musician’s world, but it’s fleeting: “In a deluxe hotel room/Under someone else’s name.”
The album was produced by Americana icon Sturgill Simpson, and, ever the genre-stretcher himself, he encouraged Lucette to push past sonic boundaries and make her own sound. “Angel” has a Tommy James feel to it, aided by synth and served up with a side of sax, extra greasy. In fact, Brad Walker’s horn makes several appearances on the record, and Bobby Emmet’s synthesizer work is a constant companion, most impressively in “Talk To Myself”. The song features that synth, bubbling under a more urgent-sounding organ swell and Lucette’s multi-tracked vocals, all coming together to portray a woman walking on the edge of mental illness: “Madness is so sweet/And blindness covers me/But you’ll never hear me/Talk to myself.” She’s got a grip, tenuous as it might be.
So, we’ve got sax, synth, fancy vocals and modern problems – where’s the country, y’all? No worries – there are plenty of down home (and downbeat) topics here. “Fly To Heaven”, backed by some organ and a hymn-like tone, brings in the kind of self-doubt that can come with religion: “But I’ll carry on/Flawed as I am/So undeserving/Searching for rest/Hoping and longing/I wait for the day/That I’ll overcome/My wretchedness.” And the album closes with “Lover Don’t Give Up On Me”, a simple piano ballad full of complicated emotions – “My lover never talks to me/My lover never cries to me/I know there’s more than what I can see.” Her plea to understand her aloof partner brings out her rawest, most unadorned vocals, and that’s as country as country can get.
Deluxe Hotel Room was produced by Sturgill Simpson, engineered by Sean Sullivan at the Butcher Shoppe Studio in Nashville, mixed by Sullivan and Simpson, and mastered by Lurssen Mastering, Inc. Simpson’s touring band also provided the music: Chuck Bartels (bass guitar), Bobby Emmet (keys/synthesizer), and Miles Miller (drums). A thought: much as other artists (Lissie, Lindi Ortega, Courtney Marie Andrews) have provided re-dos of recent albums in an alternate style, I’d be interested to hear an alt-country take on these tunes, featuring Sturgill and his band. After listening to both Deluxe Hotel Room and Black Is The Color, I feel like Lucette has the chops to do whatever she wants.