Deluxe Hotel Room finds Canadian singer-songwriter Lucette (otherwise known as Lauren Gillis) contemplating various chambers of the heart in a manner that recalls classic confessional singer-songwriters amid thoroughly contemporary musical settings. Throughout this sophomore collection, she proves that one can recall a bygone era without drowning in all its trappings and that, moreover, one can move a particular style forward without ruminating in its past. This is ultimately a textbook case of substance over style.
Lucette doesn’t seem particularly enamored of any one genre, but one can find some common threads. She often emotes like a classic country or soul singer, suggesting that she’s as at home in the honky-tonk as the juke joint and her sense of restraint is admirable though it, at times, provides one of the few sources of frustration here.
Notably, her 2014 effort, Black Is the Color, more frequently found her working in settings that are more traditionally Americana. There were many wonderful moments on that release, but its adherence to convention often threatened to have her cast as just another voice in the horde. Whether it’s artistic maturity or the steady production hand of fellow contrarian Sturgill Simpson, the results this time leave no doubt that Lucette is a force with which to be reckoned.
At 28 minutes in length, Deluxe Hotel Room makes its case quickly with succinct statements about life, love, and loneliness. The opening, titular piece, for instance, proves an exercise in economy, the listener learning that our protagonist is trying to escape something: an ex-lover, their past, the tightening clutches of fame. Whatever it is, we know the particular and momentary relief of which Lucette sings, the sense that one final luxury might help us escape ourselves in the way we’ve always craved.
There’s an overriding sense of need to sluff off expectations and burdensome emotions that permeates the record, perhaps nowhere as hauntingly or effectively as on the slow, soulful “Out of the Rain”. At times reminiscent of Steve Fromholtz’s “I’d Have to Be Crazy”, it’s a pitch-perfect composition and performance, the kind of song that becomes a standard stand-in for loneliness and heartbreak.
In terms of sheer emotion and conviction, it may only be rivaled by “Fly to Heaven”, a deep and meditative soul exploration that recalls not the era of ’60s Motown but the ’80s iteration of the genre, replete with mournful saxophone (courtesy Brad Walker) and hot, glowing keyboards (from Bobby Emmet).
It’s not all sadness and sorrow, though. “Full Moon Town” throbs with the tension and seductiveness of an ’80s pop hit without all the bluster and single entendres. “Angel” is a partial throwback to the glory of ’60s female vocal groups but never becomes sugary pastiche. Instead, Lucette holds her own, proving that one can still create a contemporary song with a blazing (maybe even slightly overblown) saxophone solo that satisfies and doesn’t fall prey to irony.
The penultimate “Talk to Myself” is a decidedly fine hour and seemingly destined to become one of the vocalist’s signature tunes. It walks the fine line between the exhilarating and the staid, between her soaring, emotional self and her well-grounded, almost defeated self.
“Crazy Bird” may be the one moment that tightens the tension between Lucette’s restraint and under-emoting tightest. There are moments where one finds themselves practically begging her to soar like the titular avian creature and yet her decision to keep the winged one closer to the ground is a far more intriguing note to strike, especially as the album winds down.
It’s refreshing to hear an album that makes its case without squawking or screaming, without excess and with an intelligence that either makes it destined for greatness or threatens to relegate it to critical obscurity. Thankfully, the aforementioned material and the closing “Lover Don’t Give Up on Me” (perhaps the one concession to commerciality) suggest it’s far more likely that wide appreciation will not elude Lucette or Deluxe Hotel Room.