JULIE DOIRON with the WOOLLY LEAVESand BABY EAGLEat the Drake Underground (1150 Queen West), Tuesday (February 20). $15-$17. 416-531-5042. Rating: NNNNN
Perpetual indie rock crush object Julie Doiron writes so openly and unselfconsciously about her life that her music tricks you into feeling like you've spent a weekend hanging out with the low-key strummer and her family in marshy Sackville, New Brunswick.
It's not that Doiron's a guts-out "Feel my pa-a-ain!" confessional songwriter. But she has a gift for delivering plainspoken descriptions of her domestic sphere with such candour that listening to her new Woke Myself Up (Endearing) disc has the effect of flipping through a close acquaintance's photo album.
Balancing being a working musician and devoted mother and wife has been a huge part of the singer/songwriter's work and world view since she embarked on a solo career after her seminal Canrock band, Eric's Trip, folded in 96.
So the news that she and her visual artist husband split earlier this year is, well, kinda heartbreaking. Especially since so much of Woke Myself Up - written before the breakup - is about trying to make things work.
"It's very hard and strange to play those songs," Doiron sighs over the phone from New Brunswick. "At least a third of the album is a love record - loving my family life, rushing to get home. And another third's about hating the music business - loving performing but wanting to just be with my family. And the last third...."
She pauses. "It's about realizing it wasn't gonna work out. I don't think it fully hit me until after the whole thing was recorded."
Sonically rawer and more aggressive than anything Doiron's released since Eric's Trip, the songs on Woke Myself Up follow a definite trajectory.
Jaunty electric guitars crunch and snares keep waltz time while a bleary-eyed Doiron tucks her restless daughter back in bed; she navigates stormy back
roads in a sadly sweet folk song, driving all night to crawl into bed with her only love. The album's midpoint is thick with tension: "No more singing," she repeatedly vows in minor-key melodies over an elastic funk bass line, then wrestles with infidelity two tracks later.
Then there's the the crackly, shaky, untitled mea culpa, buried at the album's end. It's simple, stark and completely devastating.
"The hidden track was written after I finished everything else," Doiron explains. "It's an explanation about why things ended up the way they did.
"Every time I play it, I feel like I'm overstepping the boundary of what people can handle," she continues, laughing ruefully. "It's so scary and personal that it's like an emotional workout. And I tend to act so goofy onstage that it's a bit of a shock in my show, I think."
At the very least, Woke Myself Up is the album many of her fans have been dying for since 96. Featuring former bandmates Rick White (who also engineered and mixed the disc), Chris Thompson and Mark Gaudet, it's the closest Eric's Trip have come to making a reunion record.
Doiron claims she was thrilled about coming full circle to work with the guys who helped launch her career, though she's still not sure about a proper Eric's Trip release.
"Rick and I have been talking about making music together since we toured back in 2001. "I know I've been resistant because I worked so hard to make a different name for myself as a solo artist, but it was really fun to work with them on this record."
In the meantime, Doiron's pretty caught up in collaborating with fellow East Coasters Shotgun & Jaybird, preparing to move to Montreal and, for the time being, staying off the booze.
It seems like a weird time to try going straight-edge. Aren't you supposed to avoid kicking habits during periods of major life change?
"I'm trying to go a month without drinking," groans Doiron. "I'm obsessed with it now that I'm three, no, four days in! When you're a musician and your life is hanging out in bars, making it through a month without drinking means you can do pretty much anything. I don't have anyone travelling with me, so I get pretty lonely.
"But I do have my knitting."