The big news for Duhks fans, prior to the release of this album, was that lead singer Jess Havey and drummer Scott Senior left the band and were replaced by Sarah and Christian Dugas respectively. The most profound change in sound is that Sarah’s vocal aesthetic is more Blues/Jazz where Jess’ was more Soul/Funk, which gives the entire album a more classic, backroom, rootsy feel than any of their previous endeavors since Your Daughters and Your Sons. The biggest change actually comes in the musicality of the rest of the Duhks, which has become far more ambitious and layered. All in all this album is a departure from Migrations, but one that feels more like growth than amputation.
It would be nearly impossible for an album to open with a timelier track than “Mighty Storm,” a traditional ballad about a storm in Galveston, which eerily traces early fears about Gustav while calling up memories of Katrina. Sarah Dugas proves herself a huge asset by penning four and a half (one co-write with Tania Elizabeth) songs for the album. The first, Fast Paced World, is a treatise on contemporary life, saved by the arrangement from the didactic tendencies which pervade it. She more than makes up for this on “This Fall” where she laments “some were meant to fall head over heels this year, I was meant to fall into a workshop to labor, guess I wouldn’t have the time even if I had the chap.” After taking a tour through Edith Piaf styled French on Toujours Voulior and Spanish on Magalenha, Sarah Dugas returns to form on “Sleeping Is All I Want to Do,” over gorgeous trumpet like waa-waas from Tania Elizabeth’s fiddle. Leonard Podolak contributes one of his call and response songs, 95-South. It’s a bit repetitive and cliché, but its very catchy and the band has so much fun singing it that it still wins the listener over. Both Podolak and Tania Elizabeth contribute original instrumentals, and there is the requisite Duhks arranged traditional medley. The album wraps up with the soft and lovely “I See You.”
The Duhks are a difficult band to put a finger on. Are they bluegrass, well certainly Elizabeth and Podolak are, and much of Sarah Dugas’ bluesy stuff would blend quite nicely with country blues from the 70’s and 80’s. What they are more than anything else is a convergence of paths that run through country music—Sarah Dugas’ blues vocals, Jordan McConnell’s folk guitar, Tania Elizabeth’s Celtic fiddle and the world beat drums of Christian Dugas that call to the original roots of Leonard Podolak ‘s banjo. They are almost a text book definition of Americana, except that they don’t really follow textbooks. For old Duhks fans out there, this album calls back to their early work, but pushes them forward into ever deeper and more layered sounds. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Duhks, download “Sleeping Is All I Want To Do,” listen to it once for the vocals and once for the instrumentals. Then see if you aren’t hooked.