Doug Hoekstra

Rickety Stairs

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A storyteller first and foremost, Hoekstra's second album reveals a writer of range with an ear for a phrase and an eye for detail. His breathy baritone spins tales largely in a spoke/sung manner echoing disparate influences like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. His soft-spoken, easy delivery finesses the strong poetry of his writing, turning out gems like "Look out on the signs displayed/littering each pair of eyes/that fall upon their painted lies/where...souls are judged by the money made" so easily that you might miss them as you're swept up in the music. While firmly in the folk/alt-country tradition, the arrangements incorporate piano, cello, strings, and mandolin, and as well as deploying soaring backing female vocals for added color and accent on several cuts. From the souped-up Hammond organ-boogie of "Dandelion Seeds" to wah-fueled, R&B-flavored, "Positively 4th Street" rap "Matter of Fact," from the folk-inflected, Reed-y inner-city meditation "Pieces of Man" to the fetching Southern folk-pop of "Untied Shoes," Hoekstra maintains a versatile tone and pace. His reflections are sharp, whether nailing the anomie and the challenge of daily life ("In a Crowd," "Slipping Through the Cracks") or dissecting the lasting impression of abuse ("Standing in the Station"). He saves his best for last, tying together his concerns and wonder at the world around him in the nonpareil "The List," which is followed by an equally stunning reprise where he asks, "Whatever happened to the underground/At least there used to be one/You've got fashion tips in the Rolling Stone/and a 12-page article all about living at home."

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