Dougie Poole leads his band in a performance at Comet Ping Pong onApril 8, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
There’s an assortment of singer-songwriters dabbling today in what might be considered “cosmic” country, but with a journeying articulation of unmatched wonder and a lyrical purview that makes the James Webb telescope look nearsighted, Dougie Poole simply soars alone.
The New York City-raised musician is only three full-length albums into his career, but his reputation is vast and growing with the release of his latest, The Rainbow Wheel of Death, a delightfully drifting, universally appealing recording that dropped back in late February.
Stream Dougie Poole’s newest album released on Wharf Cat Records, The Rainbow Wheel of Death, via Spotify:
Out in support of his best offering yet, Poole visited the nation’s capital on April 8 and packed Comet Ping Pong for a late-evening set that would turn out to be an intimate treat of this talented man’s songs and his remarkable voice, too.
Dougie took the stage, just a few inches above the audience really, and as the front of the venue cleared out and the back of it filled up, as usual Comet Ping Pong felt like a living room venue, rife with the lingering smells of what’s said to be delicious “New Haven style” pizza.
While not everyone might have gotten a taste of pie, the afterhours crowd did get a first-hand, up-close listen to what’s made Poole so popular so fast.
Dougie wore a large, dark cowboy hat and was backed by a four-piece group as he began the night with “Los Angeles,” a fanciful favorite from his 2020 album, The Freelancer’s Blues. That record’s title spoke to his time as a freelance computer programmer, and his newest album’s is an ode to an all-too-commonly known operating system waiting cursor.
“This is our third night of tour and we’re really happy to be here,” Poole’s banter was candid. “It’s great to be back out on the road.”
One of the most hallowed and positively departing songs on the new album, “Beth David Cemetery” performed live at Comet Ping Pong was a marvelous sample of what will certainly help Dougie advance to larger venues as he makes returns to the area. Here, his songwriting effused such character, with a modest wisdom, and his illusory baritone gave the presentation a celestial glaze:
“I said ‘I’m going to Beth David / Oh, Beth David, here I come / I’m headed home to give you back another one / Oh Beth David, here I come / Gettin’ hungry, gettin’ numb / And if memory serves, there’s no hors d’oeuvres ‘til the services are done.”
Watch the official music video for Dougie Poole’s 2022 song “Beth David Cemetery” via his YouTube channel:
“You guys are really cooking tonight!” hollered an enthused patron — though the kitchen was closed, the bar was still serving drinks. And attendees whooped and plunked along as Dougie’d carefully investigate the darkness of the room or would turn to synch up with his team, including several musicians who made contributions to the new record.
To his right, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Margaux handled the electric bass and provided an elegance with her backing vocals. At his left, Mike Etten was on electric guitar and joined on harmonies, too, and on the opposite side a seated, in-demand Jack McLoughlin played the pedal steel. Snugged on the drums was Sean Mullins, a prolific player who’s appeared in DC with the likes of Sam Evian, Johanna Samuels, and more.
Though Dougie recently moved to Maine, he still works closely with his NYC network. Etten, McLoughlin, and Mullins each appear on the new record, and Etten is credited on The Freelancer’s Blues as well. With plenty of time and room for exploration, Dougie’s songs are most certainly an attraction for rising musicians such as the friends he’s joined by on this current tour that stretches across the country and back again and extends deep into the month of May.
A brilliant working-man’s lament, “Nickels & Dimes” showed Poole and his crew pensive and at a gradual pace for this masterful, timeless waltzing country classic. Another standout from the record, “High School Gym” is a sonically stylish number that looks back with a nag of regret, longing to do it all one more time.
Poole delivered a cover of “I Lost It,” from Lucinda Williams’ 1980 album Happy Woman Blues.
“She’s the best,” Dougie stated with factuality after finishing the song. He used a thumb pick as he played his acoustic guitar, and just the combination of his voice and his warm strums lit up those gathered in the dim space.
“Nothing on This Earth Can Make Me Smile” was another testament to his captivating sound as a singer — forlorn, but lovable as can be, and as the gorgeous, tender arrangement unfolded, it should have been clear to those in the room that this was indeed a special opportunity to see such enchanting music in such a quaint setting.
Groovy, bouncing, and wildly entertaining, the new album’s title track successfully spins with a charming perseverance, and its live version only confirmed that it’s a sure way to lighten the mood and engage any listener in search of relief. “Trying something new here,” Poole said prior to the song, and he affixed a harmonica to his neck and used it to add a bluesy décor to the unforgettable take on “The Rainbow Wheel of Death.”
Listen to Dougie Poole’s second full-length studio album, 2020’s The Freelancer’s Blues, via Spotify:
Fans got a healthy dose of early Dougie selections, including “Claire” and “The Who’s Who of Who Cares” from Freelancer’s. The band followed those two with a dazed and aimless take on “Less Young But as Dumb,” nothing short of a cathartic country masterpiece from Poole’s first album, Wideass Highway.
“Thanks again to Bottled Up,” he applauded the opening act, a local D.C. band, just before introducing his own colleagues and inviting folks to come say hello at the merch table. “Thank you all for coming out.”
Serving up one of his most popular submissions, one from his first album, “Vapin’ On The Job” was luscious and provocative on top of the modish beats of this track that had the entire room shimmying and singing along to close out the night.
Dougie calmly and effectively demonstrated at Comet Ping Pong that he’s an artist with a rocket ship’s trajectory. Writing songs with interstellar perspective and a sonic grandeur, Poole has firmly established himself as an uncommon force in artfully composing contemporary country sounds.
Beth David Cemetery
Nickels and Dimes
High School Gym
I Lost It (Lucinda Williams cover)
I Lived My Whole Life Last Nite
Nothing On This Earth Can Make Me Smile
Rainbow Wheel Of Death
Old Country Waltz
The Who’s Who Of Who Cares
Less Young But As Dumb
Vapin’ On The Job
Here are images of Dougie Poole along with the night’s opening act, Bottled Up, performing at Comet Ping Pong on April 8, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.