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Dougie Poole - The Freelancer’s Blues Music Album Reviews

The cosmic country of the Brooklyn singer-songwriter is both wry and heartfelt, offering a kind of tongue-in-cheek spiritual audit for a modern age.

Late in The Freelancer’s Blues, the second album from the could-be country singer-songwriter, Dougie Poole heaves out a confession that barely approaches hyperbole: “How sweet it would be to not have a brain.” This ability to approach mid-level malaise with empathy and a smirk sits at the heart of his songs—it’s a pleasure to witness. There’s the three overlapping protagonists on “Vaping on the Job,” each of whom turns to a pocket sacrament for relief on the clock, with thudding percussion mirroring the heavy sigh that accompanies such a move. The concept of workplace vaping is its own kind of “Take This Job and Shove It” for those too broke, tired, or burned out to make the rallying cry themselves; Poole’s salute makes for a woolier companion to Brandy Clark’s “Get High.”
The Freelancer’s Blues clocks on the spectrum of “cosmic country” with some extra synths thrown in for good measure. Poole’s loose approach gives him the ability to smudge and slip between the boundaries of AM-gold country and the wry modern observations of rapscallions like Joshua Tillman. It bears a covert spirituality that speaks to a larger sense of finding calm in situ. Poole’s philosophizing is humble and unobtrusive, braiding neatly with the album’s fuzzy scenery. And though country music has often been lumped in among the signifiers of white evangelical Christianity, Poole shares his own conclusions on how to connect with higher meaning without so much liturgical baggage. The idea powers “Buddhist for a Couple Days,” where Poole waxes about searching within over a bar-band shuffle. “All you gotta do is breathe and you can set those troubles free,” he promises.

Poole’s songs aren’t laments so much as lessons. His psych-lite arrangements create a more comfortable space for turning a bad ending into a new beginning. In assessing his worries, Poole recognizes that sometimes the only course of action is to shrug it off and keep moving. “Los Angeles” begins with an anxious guitar lick that parallels the opening tumble of “Jolene,” with Poole soon realizing that escaping to greener pastures won’t solve any of his problems. He finds ironic humor in pulling “California Here I Come” out of the Great American Songbook to soundtrack his turn away from a scuttled dream.

Even “Natural Touch” takes a unique angle on the awkward discomfort of encountering a fizzled-out fling in public. Rather than dwelling on the embarrassment of a not-quite-heartbreak, Poole celebrates how these incidents make room for something more fulfilling to come along. He brings back his philosophizing in a smooth croon, noting how “Sometimes you gotta be the bug, it’s true/But sometimes you’re the windshield, too.”

The most difficult element to square on The Freelancer’s Blues—which Poole’s tongue-in-cheek lyricism acknowledges—is that many of the problems rarely transcend mild to moderate discomfort. Its lack of urgency is as much a liability as it is a respite. Still, Poole’s genial attitude makes for a nudge of encouragement, channeling a quiet certainty that the sun will return from behind the clouds once again. Though it lands a bit light, Poole’s earnest vulnerability makes room for more profound reckonings to flourish in low stakes.

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