Monday, March 1, 2010

98. She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke

98. She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke, The Dutchess and the Duke (Hardly Art, 2008)

Plenty of bands willfully mine the past. The Chesterfield Kings and the Fuzztones made careers out of fabricating ’60s garage rock sound and spirit to an extent that the unwitting might think they were ’60s acts. Jellyfish and Redd Kross approached the same nostalgic Zeitgeist, but from a decidedly modern point of view. Countless groups of the ’80s “paisley underground” took cracks at capturing the spirit. Ragtag Seattle outfit the Dutchess and the Duke make no attempt to imitate or pay homage to any scene, yet somehow manage to outdo the bulk of groups who work(ed) desperately to tap the ’60s psyche. The only explicit nod to a cultural past are the placards displayed on the cover of the duo’s debut LP, a familiar signpost to those who’ve seen the Subterranean Homesick Blues sequence of D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan film Don’t Look Back, and the occasional use of outmoded lingo like “supersonic jet plane.” The music of their first album, though, feels separate from time, a spiritual cousin of the aforementioned garage apostles yet devoid of mimicry or strained stabs at authenticity.

“Duke” Jesse Lortz and “Dutchess” Kimberly Morrison are veterans of numerous garage, surf, and punk bands, playing together in two of them, the Flying Dutchmen and the Sultans. Weary of that circuit’s party-focused grind, Lortz wrote ten tunes for jangly acoustic guitar and simple percussion--shakers, tambourines, and handclaps--addressing personal topics not compatable with his other projects. Morrison provides vocal counterpoint, adding simple flute to a handful of numbers. The sparse instrumentation and Lortz’s raspy voice, startlingly like Mick Jagger’s, evoke a campfire singalong featuring the Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones. If She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke is destined to weather ’60s comparisons, it should be noted that it is no Technicolor pop-sike trip: it instead suggests the grittier days of Haight-Ashbury after the part-time hippies left for suburbia. Many songs are jaunty enough to mask the gloom of Lortz’s lyrics; his characters are often in impossible positions, unsavory binds, or raw malaise. “There’s a boot heel that’s under your chin/That says you ain’t never gonna win,” goes The Prisoner; in Out of Time, Lortz sings of a man who’s “Got an itchy trigger finger sticking in your side/Holds you tight and at that range he ain’t gonna miss you/And no one else will girl cause you’re already dead inside.” Out of Time and Back to Me both casually mention survival prostitution. “Ain’t you sick of hearing things are gonna work out,” asks Out of Time, its narrator frustrated because “Everybody talks a lot of pretty stories/But when they talk you know they don’t even look you in the eye.” The final tune, Armageddon Song, is a rollicking piece featuring group vocals by Lortz, Morrison, and their studio companions that seems to poke fun at the album’s bleak tone, concluding “Everybody knows it, baby/We’re all gonna die.” The next D&D album, ’09’s Sunset/Sunrise, ratcheted up the production values a bit yet isn’t as compelling as the raw debut. It’s hard to imagine that the musically roving Lortz and Morrison will continue long as the Dutchess and the Duke; but, regardless of their longevity, they’ve created one great work in their debut album.

UPDATE: In October 2010, the Dutchess and the Duke indeed announced their intention to split, their final show scheduled for late November 2010 and Lortz going on to a new group called Case Studies.
Highlights: Reservoir Park, Out of Time, Strangers, Mary

Sublime bit: The final minute of swelling choruses of I Am Just a Ghost, the album’s epic showstopper at a mere four-and-a-half minutes.

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