Monday, February 16, 2015

Duke Garwood, 'Heavy Love'

For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they'll like.  Duke Garwood is a Londoner, apparently a multi-instrumentalist, and an occasional collaborator of Mark Lanegan.  This last is an indicator of the kind of dark Americana that Heavy Love inhabits.
The arrangements are pared to the bone, the lyrics bleak and oblique.  It's atmospheric, claustrophobic, possibly even cinematic.  I picture a character driving in the dark in some kind of American wilderness, or chain-smoking in an unlit back yard on a humid evening, with the sounds of crickets in the background as he stares into the dark.  It's redolent of a scene in John Updike's novel Rabbit, Run, in which Rabbit Angstrom drives aimlessly in the woods around his home town, getting nowhere.
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.

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