Canadian band the Duhks were one of the best of the first wave of newgrass groups from the late 90s and early zeros. They’ve got a characteristically fun, stylistically cross-pollinating new album, Beyond the Blue (streaming at Spotify) and a show coming up at Subculture on July 30 at 8; $17 advance tix are highly recommended.
What’s the chance that an acoustic, Appalachian-tinged cover of a song by psychedelic Malian desert rock duo Amadou & Mariam would actually work? Pretty unlikely, maybe, but the Duhks make the connection more than once. The album has two versions, one in the middle and a reprise at the end of the album. The first brings to mind the kind of African adventures that banjo player Jayme Stone was going deep into about seven years ago; the second works a somber, accordion-fueled Acadian folk ambience. By contrast, the album’s title track bounces along with dancing, banjo-like bouzouki from Colin Savoie-Levac alongside guest Charlie Rose’s pedal steel and Rosie Newton’s pensive fiddle.
The band puts a fiery electric spin on the ominously rustic, minor-key Banjo Roustabout. Jessee Havey and Tania Elizabeth join voices with a gentle persuasiveness for the waltz Suffer No Fools: it’s a hopeful anthem about leaving users and losers behind. The band goes back to minor-key, electric ferocity for the steady, swaying Fairport Convention-esque Burn. Then they take an unexpected but wildly successful detour into vintage 60s soul music with These Dreams, which with its jaunty trumpet and swirly organ wouldn’t be out of place on a Lake Street Dive album.
The album’s longest song, Black Mountain Lullaby slinks along with a hypnotic, bittersweet, nocturnal feel, the fiddle soaring over steady banjo and resonant electric guitar, which the band keeps going throughout the instrumental Tenderhoning. They raise the roof with Lazy John, which is anything but lazy; it’s sort of a mashup of Acadian folk and Brooklyn-grass. The mostly-instrumental You Go East I’ll Go West starts out with a stately tiptoe pulse, then picks up with a long, intense, twisting and turning fiddle solo. Then the band goes into piano-fueled gospel with Just One Step Away. Lots of rootsy flavors here, all of them good: it’s amazing how effortlessly they channel two hundred years of history while adding their own unique energy.