8/3/08: The Dutchess And The Duke

She’s The Dutchess, He’s The Duke
Hardly Art Records
Release date: July 8, 2008
Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Sounds like: Nearly flawless blend of early Rolling Stones, acoustic The Beatles, a young Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, and pitch-perfect male/female vocal harmonization

Longtime Seattle musicians Kimberley Morrison and Jesse Lortz score an unexpectedly major hit with their latest musical incarnation The Dutchess And The Duke. Channeling the finest aspects of mid-‘60s folk-rock, Morrison and Lortz come damn close to attaining perfection with their debut She’s The Dutchess, He’s The Duke. Opener “Reservoir Park” could be one of the strongest singles of 2008, with Mick Jagger’s youthful grit, jangly acoustic guitars, and flawless vocal harmonies grabbing hold of your ear within five seconds and refusing to let go. It's the kind of track that could define an entire genre. “Out Of Time” mixes the sunny simplicity of the early ‘60s with lyrics about pistols and “lying naked on the bathroom floor,” “Strangers” speeds along like any number of joyful early The Beatles’ singles, and “The Prisoner” luxuriates in psychedelic guitar lines and gypsy moans. Street-smart teenage innocence a la Eric Burdon and The Animals turns up on “Back To Me,” and the almost-literary “love you but got to leave you” ballad “Mary” could stand up next to any of Dylan or Cohen’s early work. The only weak link of She’s The Dutchess, He’s The Duke comes on the awkwardly tender “You Can Tell The Truth, Now” but when the slow-moving intro of “I Am Just A Ghost” gives way to the eerie vocal layers and rumbling guitars which conjure up otherworldly images, any misgivings about The Dutchess And The Duke vanish. This unassuming duo has kicked off the restrictive shackles of imitation, channeling the best aspects of early R & B and pop into a gripping, refreshingly honest link between all that is good in 2008 and all that was earth-shattering in 1963. Album closer “Armageddon Song” belies its apocalyptic name, wallowing instead in playfully optimistic bliss; technically adept key changes, enthusiastic hand claps, and soul-affirming sing-a-longs verify the genuinely American treasure The Dutchess And The Duke have created. If you've got any affinity for the powerful rock, folk, and pop that changed the musical world, buy this now.

Myspace: www.myspace.com/thedutchessandtheduke
Label: www.hardlyart.com/dutchess_duke.html
"Reservoir Park" mp3

8/3/08: Seth Kauffman

Park The Van Records
Release Date: July 15, 2008
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Sounds like: A looser, less-obsessive Beck; a little indie rock, a little slouching jazz, a lot of spectacular instrumentation. "Lo-fi North Carolina funk."

North Carolina soul rocker and multi-instrumentalist Seth Kauffman delivers a sparkling batch of eclectic jazz-inflected warmth. Kauffman recorded the many pieces of Research himself, resulting in dense layers of far-flung percussion, beautiful guitar riffs, fuzzy keyboards and sprawling college-rock lyrics. Violins, calypso drumming, and soul choruses bump shoulders on opener “Absolute Sway”; vinyl hisses, hip-hop beats, and a beautiful falsetto worthy of My Morning Jacket make “Not Much Left To Give” glimmer; and “Summertime Bossa Nova” loops acid-jazz percussion, space-noir guitars, and a moody, minor-key atmosphere over sensual keys. Research only gains steam as it moves briskly along, with other stops including the ‘50s garage-rock/trash-blues team-up “Ron Ben-Isreal Blues,” the all-too-brief early-‘70s reggae shamble “Wafting Sands,” and the hootin’ and hollerin’ fun of “Ain’t No Tellin’.” “I Bleed Easy” symbolizes Seth Kauffman’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mantra, combining countrified alternative rock with beautifully distorted slide guitar and plaintive beg-for-mercy lyrics. All of these influences blend together so effortlessly it’s hard to pick one defining genre for Kauffman; he may not be as popular as Beck, but Seth's got a comparable set of extensive and all-encompassing chops. His first-rate drumming alone could steer any modern jazz quartet.

Official site: www.sethkauffman.com
Myspace: www.myspace.com/sethkauffman
Label: www.parkthevan.com/sethkauffman
"Absolute Sway" video

8/3/08: The Weeks

Comeback Cadillac
Esperanza Plantantion Records
Release Date: July 8, 2008
Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Sounds like: Kings Of Leon, post-punk a la Mars Volta, a touch of ‘90s grunge, a lot of indie rock posturing

Jackson, MS, quintet The Weeks earn a heaping pile of obvious comparisons on their debut album Comeback Cadillac; repeat listens, however, reveal a deeper layer of rock understanding. The strutting indie-punk of “Teary-Eyed Woman” sounds shallow at first, but fiery guitars and melancholy vocal shouts add an injection of Southern authenticity. “Altar Girl” and “Buttons” provide the most obvious parallels between The Weeks’ lead singer Cyle Barnes and Kings Of Leon’s Caleb Followill, with Barnes perfectly cribbing Followill’s detached moan and howling hipster sneer. But the stark goth/grunge influences on “Hold It, Kid (Your Heart Just Skipped A Beat)” divulge a lineage that stretches back to Pearl Jam and Dispatch, while “Mississippi Rain” proves that not everyone can pull off Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk rock. Bright spots like “Dog Days” make up for the few missteps, with piano flourishes and Barnes’ endearingly natural vocals standing out. Other highlights include the Modest Mouse by-way-of Social Distortion “Wishin’ My Week Away,” but the forced tenderness of “Sailor Song” and the exact Kings Of Leon replica “Ballad Of Tonto Higgins” close Comeback Cadillac on a bit of a weak note. Not the best debut ever, but The Weeks demonstrate that with a bit of influence-tweaking and a little more originality, promising material could follow.

Myspace: www.myspace.com/theweeks
Label: www.myspace.com/esperanzaplantation