Home Read Classic Album Review: Luke Doucet | Aloha, Manitoba

Classic Album Review: Luke Doucet | Aloha, Manitoba

The singer-guitarist proves you can go home again with this personal solo effort.

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

Let’s face it — Manitoba isn’t generally a place people dream of living. More often, it seems a place people dream of leaving. But truly leaving the province behind is easier said than done. Talk to anybody who grew up here — even if they left 30 years ago, even if they live in a Hollywood mansion or a Manhattan penthouse, they still think of Manitoba as home.

That unique bond is definitely felt by Vancouver-based singer-guitarist Luke Doucet, erstwhile sideman for Sarah McLachlan, former member of Acoustically Inclined, former leader of Veal and ex-resident of Wolseley. And as Doucet’s first solo album Aloha, Manitoba makes abundantly clear, Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again. Which is exactly what Doucet did — literally, musically and thematically — to create this dozen-track offering.

Recorded at Private Ear Studios last December (“It was cold,” the album drily notes), Aloha reunites Doucet with former musical partners like Barry Mirochnick and Paul James. With its acoustic instrumentation, miminal arrangements and rootsy vibe, it revisits the musical terrain where Doucet got his start back before heading out west to seek fame and fortune. And as the most intimate and personally revealing collection of songs Doucet has recorded thus far in his career, it’s definitely the tale of a guy who finds himself torn between the bright lights of bigger cities and the familiarity of his home town. It’s no coincidence that Aloha means both hello and goodbye.

“I know what gets said about the great plains / The water only nourishes the left brain,” cracks Doucet over the samba-lounge strains of The Defector, sounding apologetic as he defends his decision from the sour grapes and guilty accusations of those left behind. “I can’t be lured by those Fort Garry patriots who’ve always been afraid to leave, it’s too much like defecting.” Those mixed feelings seem to preoccupy the thoughts of the “outlaws, pirates, deviants (and) scoundrels” who populate Doucet’s songs, and with whom he obviously identifies. Not all are Manitobans — aside from a local landmark or a casual reference here and there, just as many of these songs are about other cities from New Orleans to New York — but no matter the setting, they’re all outsiders trying to reconnect with a home, a life, a love they left behind.

That theme might remind you a bit of The WeakerthansLeft and Leaving. Much of the music here will as well. Doucet’s fragile, high-register vocals bear more than a passing resemblance to John K. Samson, as does his intelligent, thoughtfully crafted songwriting. Stylistically, the two part ways — instead of Samson’s passionate indie-punk, Doucet treads a rootsier path of lightly two-stepping rhythms, blues and country-pop melodies and harmonies, and plenty of twangy acoustic guitars. In fact, for a guy who’s a minor-league guitar hero in Veal, he barely touches an electric string on this 52-minute album. But it’s not like you miss it, or even really notice it; the emotional impact of his songwriting packs enough power to more than make up for the folky, downhome vibe. These songs don’t need electricity to spark a connection. Even then, it wouldn’t be as strong as the one Doucet still feels with Manitoba.

Welcome home, Luke. Don’t be a stranger.