Review: Lucette Flexes Her Pop Influences on 'Deluxe Hotel Room'
The foundation of Americana music is its willingness to blend genres. There is a country and folk foundation, but within you can also find artists blending Southern rock, soul, r&b, and punk. But rarely do you find someone successfully melding Americana with pop. Sure, there are acts that utilize the folk-pop genre label, but they're mostly acoustic acts with catchy hooks. Lucette, on the other hand, truly deserves the folk-pop label on her new album Deluxe Hotel Room, releasing May 17 on Rock Creek Music.
It's been five years since Lucette, the stage name of Lauren Gillis, released her debut album, the Dave Cobb produced Black is the Color, which not only produced a hit single in the murder ballad “Bobby Reid” but also introduced her to an important friend and musical mentor, Sturgill Simpson, who starred in the video for “Bobby Reid” and produced Deluxe Hotel Room. Simpson has done his fair share of genre-mixing on his own albums and, in the producer's chair for Deluxe Hotel Room, he gives Lucette the space she needs to stretch her own legs.
No song has more of a pop feel than “Full Moon Town,” with its hypnotic drum machine beats and driving bassline. Lucette observes the happenings and hypocrisies of small town America where “there's one red light where you stop, unless you're in real good with the cops” with a detachment that gives the song a unique perspective, almost that of a passing traveler rather than the usual resident. Lucette drives this home with a flat, almost Annie Lennox-esque delivery.
But don't think detachment is the theme of Deluxe Hotel Room. Throughout the album, Lucette turns a number of personal trials into songs. “Crazy Bird” is a soulful ballad about a doomed relationship. Lucette again turns pop conventions on their ear, ditching the usual “you're to blame” or “I'm to blame” standards of breakup songs in favor of a more pragmatic observation that, while it was fun at the time, a practical woman and a fanciful man were just never meant to be. There's a wistful aspect to the song, an underlying longing to be more free as she sings “the sky's for you, the Earth's for me.”
Lucette tackles '60s girl group conventions on “Angel”, a song that will be instantly relatable to any teenager who ever harbored a secret romantic fantasy. While it's never explicitly said that the potential relationship in “Angel” is the same as the ill-fated on in “Crazy Bird”, it's easy to see how one could lead to the other.
The album's title track, one of its highlights, is a spare piano-driven ballad, and the song that will be most familiar to fans of Lucette's first album. Lucette's croon over the simple piano gives the song a haunting feel that punctuates the resignation that permeates the whole affair. Here dreams aren't so much shattered as withered, less an explosion than a realization that reality, the “deluxe hotel room under someone else's name”, is often much less glamorous than the reality.
The other highlight of Deluxe Hotel Room is “Talk to Myself”, the album's first single. Mental illness is the most pervasive invisible disease in America, so when Lucette sings “but you'll never hear me talk to myself,” it's a sentiment that millions will be able to relate to. Lucette's inner battles, like most people's, are depicted as private affairs, personal wars waged against demons while desperately attempting to keep a happy face in public.
Deluxe Hotel Room will likely get knocked by some purists, the same ones who recently crucified Maren Morris for daring to bare her midriff, but for fans willing to step outside their bubble (and those who come to Lucette via Simpson will already have a good start on that) they’re rewarded by an album that, at its core, is everything that fans of Americana love; smart lyrics, well-crafted songs, and a unique perspective on everyday life. It's a fitting entry from an artist who drew a lot of comparisons to Bobbie Gentry when she released “Bobby Reid.” While Gentry is now rightly lauded as a legend of country music, people forget just how groundbreaking the Southern gothic “Ode to Billie Joe” was. There is no one song on Deluxe Hotel Room that packs that much of a punch, but there's plenty to love in the album's quick sub-30 minute runtime for those who are willing to let Lucette lead them into her own new realms.
Lucette will tour in early June in support of Deluxe Hotel Room, including a stop at Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley on June 9, a City Winery tour with stops in DC (June 11), New York (June 14), and Boston (June 16) before spending the remainder of the month opening for Delta Rae.