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Wide-eyed fascination

by James M. Manheim

From the May, 2016 issue

Lucette, whose real name is Lauren Gills, comes from Edmonton, Alberta. She made a splash a couple of years ago, at the age of twenty-two, with her debut album, Black Is the Color, and went out on the road with the fast-rising intellectual-traditionalist country singer Sturgill Simpson and then with Texan legend Joe Ely, appearing at some taste-making festivals along the way. Her music is not exactly country but displays a certain wide-eyed fascination with the dark landscape of old-time song that has been powering Canadian music since the early days of the Cowboy Junkies and maybe even the early days of Hank Snow.

Consider the album's title track, which applies a deadpan modern treatment, with electronic keyboard and handclaps, to "Black Is the Color," a quintessential Appalachian folk song derived from a lost Scots original. The arrangement is the work of Lucette's producer, Dave Cobb, with whom she's worked since she was nineteen. The long relationship with Cobb, who has also recorded Simpson, Jason Isbell, and Waylon Jennings' son Shooter, gives her songs a sense of organic unity that's unusual in the work of such a young artist. "Black Is the Color" also gains interest from the way it adopts a female perspective in a traditionally male song.

Lucette exploits this same tension in a group of mysterious songs that may or may not be murder ballads. One of them, "Bobby Reid," was made into a video, starring Simpson, that has exploded in popularity online over the past year. These ballads, like most of her songs, are originals, and they were partly inspired by her discovery of Bobbie Gentry midway through the recording of her album. As with Gentry, you may feel that the cool, distant voice hasn't lived the things it's singing about--but that atmosphere of mystery draws you in. Throw in good looks and a pair of rather uncanny hazel eyes, and you've got a package to stir the imagination.

Lucette has already appeared in a couple of opening-act slots at the Ark, and on May 4 she'll be there again in one of a string of dates opening for the Texas alt-country legend Alejandro Escovedo--another talent spotter who has taken an interest in this young prairie Canadian. Her debut album had multiple good ideas, she's at work on a new release, and she could be about to break.     (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2016.]


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