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The Dutchess and the Duke - She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke

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Artist: The Dutchess and the Duke

Album: She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Jun. 24, 2008

The loosely-strung, blues-y acoustic ballad is a staple of even the roughest garage rock albums--think The Reigning Sounds’ “Love Is a Funny Thing,” the Demon’s Claws’ “Gun to My Head,” Mr. Airplane Man’s “Don’t Know Why.” What the Dutchess and the Duke have done here is to make a whole album’s worth of these songs, in a style that ranges at the harder end from Let It Bleed-era countrified Stones to campfire folk songs. If you are expecting garage rock, given the band members’ past work in bands like the Fall-Outs, the Intelligence and Fee Fi Fo Fum, you will be surprised, but not, at least after the initial shock, disappointed. There’s a sloppy, unplanned charm to these songs, with their close harmonies, shuffling rhythms and hard acoustic guitar strumming. They sound like the kind of songs that long-time friends might pound out on the porch in the afternoon, beer cans everywhere, harmonies drifting in and out of true.

That’s maybe because the Dutchess (Kimberly Morrison) and the Duke (Jesse Lortz) are long-time friends, childhood pals even, who hooked up again in Seattle one night when both were playing in separate surf guitar bands. The Dutchess and the Duke isn’t their first band together, either. They’ve also played together in R&B subverting The Flying Dutchman, and the one-off girl group homage The Sultanas. So, let’s see, surf, garage, Stax, Spector…what’s left of the 1960s but acoustic folky blues?

There is, in fact, an early 1960s, Bleecker Street hootenanny swagger to cuts like “Reservoir Park,” “Strangers” and “Armageddon” that might allow The Dutchess and the Duke to slip through the back into the Anti-Folk aesthetic. “Mary” seems particularly Dylanish, gently rollicking, Lortz in full nasal earnestness as Morrison gently embellishes. There’s even a hippie flute in waltz-time “You Can Tell the Truth, Now,” though it may remind you more of the Deadly Snakes’ “Gore Veil” than any Mamas and Papas tune.

Still, most of the best songs on this disc sound like rock songs that have been slowed and softened just a bit, unplugged and arranged with homespun girl/boy harmonies. Album highlight “The Prisoner”, for instance, is a dead ringer for mid-1960s acoustic Stones, right down to its “Paint It Black”-ish guitar riff. Later, “I Am a Ghost” has a damaged acoustic vibe that might remind you of “Ruby Tuesday”, and “Back To Me,” with its massed call-and-response vocals and emphatic––though acoustic––walking guitar line would only need bigger drums and an electric bass to turn into an all-out rocker.

That’s maybe the interesting thing about She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke, that while you could hardly imagine a lower-key, more relaxed collection of folky, acoustic songs, there is always the threat that these cuts could catch on fire. I’d like to see it happen, personally, but for now, even smoking faintly, they’re more than worth a listen.

By Jennifer Kelly

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