Garden of Ashes by Duke Garwood

Release date: February 3, 2017
Label: Heavenly Recordings

With only a couple of days to go at the time of writing this, 2016 continues to confound.  It’s not been the best of years.  However, if there’s one thing that we can glean from this, it’s that we have a newly-rediscovered appreciation for what’s good as well as a newly-rediscovered knack for getting angry.  Duke Garwood is angry.  Garden of Ashes is his Angry Album.  Duke being Duke though, this is all filtered through various channels and processes before the end result appears as a mostly laid-back, calm and beguiling piece of work that works as a whole or as two distinct entities.

The first of these elements is one that is prevalent right from the start.  The layers, backing “ooh”s and Duke’s own Hendrix-like voice pushed to the fore of ‘Coldblooded’ give an air of a more band-like direction than before, and the album’s closer (the same song reprised) expands on this with thanks in no small part to the addition of the Smoke Fairies, who appear with spectral backing vocals on more than a couple of tracks – it has to be said that although their contribution is fairly limited, it’s a perfect fit wherever they appear thanks to a shared, cyclic musical palette that is truly catalytic and complementary to Duke’s musical vision and which creates a partnership that I certainly hope continues beyond this album.

The second element is perhaps more familiar, especially to those who have seen Duke on stage.  When he sings alone with only his guitar for company, he invokes a concentrated silence in which he performs which demands a certain silence while he passes the music he’s seemingly pulled in from the air around him across to the listener.  Listen deeper into these moments, and you can hear these ideas hanging on the most fragile drones and hums, providing a sultry and sinister atmosphere in which his songs can truly breathe.

The album’s aforementioned anger simmers rather than boils.  It’s probably most prevalent in “Sonny Boogie”, where the mellow groove is punctuated throughout by a choice of words that allow themselves to be pronounced in very distinctive, clipped terms.  It’s a curious thing to hear in such a beautifully relaxed song, but the ire is there and this pops up hither and thither throughout.  It’s certainly a strange expression of a critical emotion, but it’s a welcome and thoughtful one.

For all the pointed emotion and sonic expansion, the core of Duke Garwood’s music remains largely unchanged as ever, albeit sharper in focus than before.  A true step onwards and upwards from the previous Heavy Love, there’s a substance forming around Duke Garwood that has taken a long time for him to spin from the world around him, and it’s something we could all do with paying attention to.

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