"The past is never dead," William Faulkner once wrote. "It's not even past." This adage is especially true of music, perhaps necessarily so, given the finite universe of chords, tempo and melodies. The past deeply informs the present, which is why musicians always return to early touchstones.
For Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison of the Dutchess & the Duke, the familiar ground is '60s roots rock and pop like the Animals, the Byrds, even Peter, Paul & Mary. Those ghosts linger in the strummed acoustics, haunted organ peals, and shadowy strings of loping minor-key arrangements soaked in melancholia, ache and loss. Indeed, the emotional tenor suggests a blighted World War I battlefield, pocked by craters of regret, bodies emptied of their vibrancy, and a gloomy abiding pall.
The album opens with Lortz counting the time left on his "Hands," comparing himself to an apparition in the twilight of a relation, noting "in your heart there's another man, and I just can't go on." The wavering organ and minor key melody suggests the Hollies or perhaps the Stones' "As Tears Go By." A violin informs "Scorpio," as Morrison and Lortz trade harmonies, and Lortz complains to his lover of the distance between them in his heart. This theme of disaffection repeats itself throughout the disc, from "I Don't Feel Anything" to the dark folk elegy he wrote for his pregnant wife, "Let It Die." That theme joins the motif of cheating as surrender in the dusky jangling "Never Had a Chance" and "When You Leave My Arms," the latter featuring a melody that echoes the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreaming."
Morrison's husky alto blends nicely with Lortz's bedeviled tenor, while the music alternates nicely between bluesy, tormented R&B (the kind synonymous with Eric Burdon and Brian Jones) and world-weary folk. What it lacks in originality is amply compensated by a moody vibe that balances pop songcraft and emotional anguish.
The Dutchess & the Duke play Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the Magic Stick Café, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7665. With Medication.
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.