Cuff The Duke – [Album]

Thursday, 10 September 2009

There are lots of ways to try and argue around it, but it's difficult to honestly deny that Cuff The Duke was one of the least likely inductees into the wave of Canadian rock that crashed against the US border about eighteen months ago, thus forcing the American market to accept the fact that they weren't the only ones in North America with a music community. The easiest way to say it is that the band stuck out like a sore thumb at the time; while other groups  like Broken Social Scene, The Stills and The Constantines (who, to be fair, already had a foothold in the States) made the most of expansive sounds, arena-sized volume and grand ambitions, Cuff The Duke didn't amp up their country/folk-imbued sonics to play ball with the notice and didn't arc any sudden left turns; they just stayed their own course. The music press Stateside called them things like 'rock band,' but those in the know paid no notice and the band itself shrugged off any such indictments on the theory that people would say what they'd say.

As much as the mis-classification didn't appear to bother them though, in listening to Way Down Here it becomes evident that the talk must have made the band flinch a little because, this time, Cuff The Duke makes it unavoidable – the only rocks they see are the ones they kick up the street on their way through these ten dusty, countrified tracks.

From the beginning of “You Were Right,” Cuff The Duke sets itself up for all to see and hear as the new millennium's answer to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; with singer/guitarist Wayne Petti up front brandishing just an acoustic guitar, bassist Paul Lowman, guitarist Dale Murray and drummer Corey Wood hang way back instrumentally but pipe right up vocally to fill the song with a joyous and lush  four-part four-part vocal harmony. The tenderness and warmth of the sound is a marvel and, from right then, those older fans that scratched their head in dubious confusion at any rock connotation will just look up starry-eyed – this easy return is better than any of them could have hoped for.

After “You Were Right” casts the die and sketches the image, for the next thirty-five minutes, Cuff The Duke earnestly sets to filling in the colors and the details of their scenery to show new listeners just what they're about while also thrilling long-time fans with a set of the strongest and most focused, traditionally-minded songs they've released to date.

There is nothing showy about the sort of laid back, backwoods vibes that Cuff The Duke brings to light in songs like “Follow Me” (in which are contained words to live by: “Hardest part, finding peace/ It's in my heart, I'm at ease/ There's no answer to be sung/ but there it lies in everyone”), “The Words You Ignore” and the tortured love story that “Rocking Chair” embodies – each is a pristine walk through the wide open spaces and remembers simpler times with such an infectious romance that it's difficult not to want to fall in line. Even when times get a little harder (“It's All A Blur” recalls The Turtles and “Happy Together” while restless electric guitars stir up a dusty torrent in “Promises” and the night suddenly turns spontaneously and blisteringly cold during “Another Day In Purgatory”), there is an underlying calm beneath the surface of those speedier tempos for listeners to find and take refuge in and weather those few but tempestuous storms. In the end, while “Need You” is the most sunny-intoned song on the record, Petti gives listeners the hinted warning that there may yet be more trouble on the horizon as his longing sentiment begins to cloud the sunny guitars and tidy drumming. In that closure, Cuff The Duke offers listeners the same warm but worrisome inclination they always have but, this time, it's tempered by an added sense that while the end might not be perfect (a fact wordlessly summed up by the hidden track “Farley The Dog” which expertly straddles darkness and hope) – the picture left behind is a definitive one of all that Cuff The Duke is and wishes to be as a world class band. On Way Down Here, there is darkness, there is light, there is worry and there is joy – but in every case it is modest, understated and miles from anything resembling rock n' roll. It is sweet but evasive – you have to go to it because it will not come to you.



Way Down Here
is out now. Buy it on Amazon .

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