The arrangements are pared to the bone, the lyrics bleak and oblique. It's atmospheric,
|The stark and spare Duke Garwood|
And that, essentially, is it. It's a mood piece, virtually devoid of dynamics. It's sombre, sub fusc, occasionally droning stuff, very much through a glass darkly. Consonant with the stark and spare instrumentation, Garwood adopts a muttering, keening singing style. Occasionally a guitar is allowed to twinkle a little, as on 'Burning Seas', creating some sharp points of light in the ongoing dusk. But such contrasts are limited.
I'm forcibly reminded of Raising Sand, and for me that is not a recommendation. Grammy Awards notwithstanding, RS is a classic example of the Emperor's new clothes. It's a style I think of as Gloom Blues, which before long leaves me exclaiming "Cheer up, for god's sake!" Somewhere along the way Garwood conjures a brief moment that echoes 'The Beast In Me', which Nick Lowe wrote for Johnny Cash - and that lays things bare. There are good examples of this genre, such as Springsteen's Nebraska and Cash's American Recordings. But they work because the songs have heart - strong melodies and lyrics that tell stories. Give me the Man in Black's cracked vocals and simple guitar anyday.