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Published: 2005/03/05
by Jeremy Sanchez

self-titled – The Duhks

Sugar Hill Records

I work in a music store, and while shelving the new releases recently I spotted a disc by The Duhks (sounds like ducks). Branded with the name Bela Fleck as a co-producer, of course I had to hear it, and what a pleasure it's been. I could stop this review after saying: "Definitely hear this for the musicianship, vocal mastery and traditional numbers mixed with original song-stories. No contribution lacks for the sake of another." That'd be too easy, I guess, but really it would suffice. The Duhks interpret traditional folk songs and pile on impressive originals, mixing styles of delivery for scene credibility.

Vocalist Jessica Havey's blues rasp gives "Death Came a Knockin'" a liveliness sent jumping by intermittent whistles borrowed straight from a modern pyrotechnic-filled Jamaican field party. I should say that although Havey's voice can be bluesy, it's only an ingredient in the fruitcake that is The Duhks. Influences fly by, but nothing sticks for long.

"Gene's Machine" is a set of four Irish-inspired instrumental snippets regrouped into one. Fiddler Tania Elizabeth's playing and banjoist Leonard Podolak's picking are showcased especially. "The Magnolia Set" (arranged for the 2003 Magnolia Festival in Live Oak, Florida), another braid of four instrumentals, is anchored by Bela Fleck's fast hand during its fourth part ("Isaac Hanna's"). "The Dregs of Birch" combines three songs: "Slip Jig" (a creeper of a traditional), Elizabeth's "The Dregs of Birch" (a livelier morph with acoustic guitarist Jordan McConnell's rhythm anchoring Elizabeth's ripping), and the climactic "Eleanor Days #1."

"Mists of Down Below" mates Canadian Dan Frechette's lyrics with a Podolak banjo instrumental. Fretless bass — bass is minimal in The Duhks' world — is stretched out by none other than the Flecktones' Victor Wooten. Honestly, I'm not sure why he wasn't selected for a more rhythmically difficult song. Maybe Bela just coaxed him in at a good price. About half of the people sitting in studio could have knocked out the same riff as Wooten did (not that they're equals) and The Duhks are just good enough not to need the sales pitch. But I'm sure it'll help.

Jordan McConnell casts front-and-center vocals on the "Dover Delaware" and by this point, you'll be thinking, "damn, what a talented group this is!" "Love is the Seventh Wave" is saved until last. Elizabeth should write more songs if this is the caliber she consistently fires. The lyrics are enticingly complete, "At the still point of destruction, at the center of the fury, all the angels, all the devils, all around us. Can't you see? There is a deeper wave than this rising in the land. There is a deeper wave than this, nothing will withstand. I say love is the seventh wave." The music, roots-reggae influenced (drop beats and upchucks) with a touch of Irish Jig, is correct for a song about hope.

I could have stopped at paragraph uno, so I'll only reiterate. Hear it, everything's great!

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