Blanche's If We Can't Trust the Doctors… is probably the greatest alt-country album ever to come out of Detroit. This work possesses the air of something built to last and resonate deeply in the hearts and minds of the genre's hardcore--and with people indifferent to alt-country who have a weakness for songs tinged with bittersweet ache.
Said ache has its roots in tragic losses suffered by Blanche front-folk (and married couple) Dan John Miller (guitar, vocals, fiddle) and Tracee Mae Miller (bass, vocals). Dan's painter/musician brother Michael and Tracee's father passed away during the making of Doctors.
Before forming Blanche in 1999, Dan Miller played in Two Star Tabernacle from 1997 to 1999 with White Stripes male half, and before that fronted popular cow-punk goofballs Goober & the Peas. Miller's guiding principle for Blanche was to have everyone (except for him, ha ha) play instruments they hadn't touched before.
"It was definitely wrongheaded," Miller says of Blanche's ethos, but it resulted in "getting people in the band who had similar inspirations musically, and we wanted it to be like a family." For Miller, musical taste and inter-band camaraderie trumped technical ability.
Subtlety guides Blanche through potentially kitsch (fire)waters; their country rock eludes cornpone sonics and vocal mannerisms. "Who's to Say," a sparse ballad of heart-melting poignancy, sets the tone (Jack White contributes a guitar solo and Brendan Benson backing vocals). The easy, flowing country-rock of "Do You Trust Me?" evokes Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood-style give and take, with Feeny's beautiful pedal-steel peals cascading over the loping beat.
Miller leavens the album's bleak subject matter with sly humor and clever wordplay. "That's another way of dealing with grief and sorrow," he says. "You have to be able to laugh at yourself. If not, you're gonna end up killing yourself."