Luke Doucet is tired.
The Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter's voice is rusty with sleep when I reach him on his cellphone, somewhere around Grand Prairie. After some fuzzy but pleasant greetings, he asks me to wait a minute. I hear him cover the phone. "Uh, babe, when are we leaving?" he says. A female voice that I can only assume belongs to his wife, musician Melissa McClelland, mumbles something urgently. Doucet returns. "Uh, I've got to go to the airport in 20 minutes," he says apologetically. Even as I curse inwardly and delete half a page of questions, it's easy to forgive Mr. Doucet. After all, his dance card has recently filled up. He and his alt-country group, the White Falcon (named after Doucet's beloved guitar), are at the beginning of a month-long, country-wide tour with James Blunt. After more than 15 years of touring, Doucet's work has had him travelling alongside everyone from Sarah McLachlan to Blue Rodeo---but he says the Blunt tour is an entirely different beast.
"Blue Rodeo's music is a lot closer to ours," he says. "Winning the audience's affections was like taking candy from a baby. The James Blunt crowd is not expecting us, so we have to work a bit harder. Generally they're trepidatious for a song or two and then they seem to warm up to it. I'm expecting tomatoes and then we're all friends."
It's not a big surprise that Doucet has been able to win over the "Beautiful" set. The 33 year old spent most of his career two-stepping from one style of music to the next, whether playing blues licks with his jazz-guitarist father as a teenager, supporting MacLachlan at age 19, or shredding and swaggering in the Edmonton surf-punk outfit Veal. The White Falcon debut Blood's Too Rich is perhaps Doucet's most overt tribute to the music he grew up on---music that most of us would refer to as "dad-rock" with equal parts reverence and derision. The Band, Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits---they're all in there, rendered through Doucet's twanging guitar and a voice that recalls the sweet rasp of Win Butler's, crossed with the black-as-pitch poetics of Tom Waits. It's a style that has not only caught the interest of James Blunt fans, but the ultimate pop-music tastemaker himself, Nick Hornby. The High Fidelity author presented Blood's Too Rich's "Commandante" as one of his top 12 songs of 2008 in the New York Times. He added that the album in general sounded like the point in 1977 where "punk managed to reinvent rock music, too---made it sound fresher and less pompous."
"That strikes a chord with me," says Doucet. "It's interesting for someone as credible as Nick Hornby to mention that era as a reference. I grew up with my parents' music, classic American songbook stuff. I've deviated from that at certain points of my life, but then I find it again."
It's a reference point that Doucet acknowledges might not jive with today's indie rock kids---particularly those who grew up in the '80s, a period that he says was "unkind" to the guitar. "I've often tried to hide that influence," he says. "You never heard Thrush Hermit saying, 'We really dig the Dire Straits.' I never thought I'd get kudos for being true to that side of where I came from."
Buried deep within the rough road ballads of Blood's Too Rich lies another clue to Doucet's patchy musical past: the band's twangy (but surprisingly loyal) cover of The Cure's "The Lovecats," complete with meows. It doesn't exactly fall from the same tree as "Money for Nothing"---but Doucet, wide awake now, has an explanation for the song choice.
"When I came out of the musical mess my parents made, I discovered Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure," Doucet says. "I was listening to 'The Lovecats' a year ago and it struck me---it's as much a jump-swing rockabilly song as it is a new-wave puzzle-dancing anthem. It really bridges the intuitive stuff and the music that gently peppers my work. I hope it really challenges a hard-core Cure fan who listens to the song. I hope it pisses them off."
With that, the guitarist is gone---off to another plane, another stadium, another audience that isn't quite his---yet. Skeptical James Blunt fans would do well to show up early if they're looking to be convinced.