Singer-songwriter Luke LeBlanc comes into his own with Fugue State, his second full-length album of the pandemic era. This set of warm folk-pop opens with a soft-spoken challenge: “When everybody says just what they mean / That’s when I’ll come clean.” The song’s pentatonic melody, free of blue notes, sets us strictly in the Anglo-American folk idiom, tasteful pedal steel lubricating the sound. “Come Clean” is one of several songs that address, in homespun strains, the dark complexities of our traumatized era.
The album reads like one human’s reflective journey through the psyche of a nation, painted in lush yet simple arrangements where pedal steel, violin, banjo and sax make appearances along with the usual folksy lineup of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards.
There’s flicker of early Simon and Garfunkel, a hint of Greg Brown and even a glance at Beck in LeBlanc’s straight-up, incisive songs. There’s a touch of John Lennon-style psychedelia in “Take Your Mind off It,” with overlapping vocals and spacey keyboards. “Slide on Over” bring a shot of folk-rock positivity, Tom Petty style; the singer suggests that fading “like a midnight dream” must suffice for comfort in a troubled world – but over layered electric guitars he also wants to comfort a lover of friend like “the light shining off the moon.”
The elemental simplicity of the chord changes and the weary, indomitable creak of LeBlanc’s vocals support a classic sense of melody in these songs, exemplified by the country ballad “Down Low,” spiced with strings and pedal steel. Woven into deceptively loose-sounding arrangements these elements add up to a distinctive artistic sensibility.
“Anymore” dances by like Bruce Springsteen in his sparer, folk-pop mode, while “Still” dives into existential doubt with a hummable flow. The quietly jaunty “Walking Days” harks back to the classic country of Hank Williams, heard through a dusty Townes van Zandt filter on a bed of Eric Heywood’s stellar pedal steel.
In “When I Walk with You,” a paean to the power of love to overcome both internal and external adversity and even death, “a touch as light as a feather will push us through / When I walk/run/die with you.” Saxophone and piping organ add a faint, eerie carnival flavor.
Two chords, underpinned by a ghostly banjo courtesy of producer and multi-instrumentalist Erik Koskinen, are all LeBlanc needs to build a touching depiction of filial love and growing up in “Now.” (The folksiness of the songs might mask Koskinen’s contributions, but they are major.) The achingly spare “Soothes Me” shows how much emotional imagery LeBlanc can draw from just his voice and a finger-picked guitar, even as the song makes the album’s closest approach to the titular “fugue state.”
Fittingly for an album closer, the travel song “Long Way to Go” depicts the artist’s path as a journey through a strange land – “a little boy chasing shiny things.” We may never get to a place where everybody says “just what they mean,” but with the honest writing, singing and playing on Fugue State Luke LeBlanc – whose track “Oh My Lordy” we we premiered last year – and his excellent backing musicians come as close to “coming clean” as an artist and a band can hope to.
Fugue State comes out October 28, 2022. Visit his website for music and more info.