Published Nov 09, 2016Look at the cover art for A Hand Through the Cellar Door. The character is thoroughly obscured but somehow still recognizable as a person, perhaps because of their shape, their clothing or the simple, meta-textual fact that they are the subject of this album cover photo. It could be Luke Temple, or it could be anyone; this is the paradoxical nature of the detailed yet unknowable characters Temple sings about on his new album.
This album is something of a return to the folksier singer-songwriter form of Temple's 2001 LP Don't Act Like You Don't Care, and his writing is no less intimate here as he tells stories about characters other than himself, perhaps aiming to reveal something personal or universal — or both. It's a lofty aim, especially when all the greats (Springsteen, Cohen, Dylan) have made already made decades-long careers doing it.
For the most part though, Temple excels in this form. While the indie-folk-rock arrangements are sparse and relatively simple, they work like good film music should: supporting the story without distracting from it. Character study "Maryanne Was Quiet" unfolds a compelling narrative with a moral thesis in a single line near the end: "I guess we all have different ways to heal." Later, "The Case of Louis Warren" follows a similar form, with the compelling query, "When the things go that define you, what is it that is left?"
Closing track "The Masterpiece is Broken" is probably the clearest statement of Temple's worldview (which underpins the rest of the songs): that people are complicated and messed up, but that it's our idiosyncrasies that make us beautiful and lovable. It may be a bit platitudinous, but Temple's delicate voice and songwriting make it an enjoyable listening experience. (Secretly Canadian)