Tag: Buck 65
Cuff the Duke’s new album, Way Down Here, was released in Canada last week. I’m pleased to report that it’s really quite good. It got me thinking about several things, but first, we can discuss the new album.
Cuff the Duke are a band that have never been afraid to wear their hearts on their proverbial sleeves. Their songs are unabashedly emotional, and while previous effort Sidelines of the City was enjoyable, I felt that they lost that vulnerability to a certain extent. This new record seems them return to making the emotional music for emotional people that made them stand out a bit and the new songs are no exception.
Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor came in to produce this record, and it does sound nice. Both vocals and instruments are given a bit of room to breathe, and there’s some pleasant harmonizing on a few songs that I’d never noticed in Cuff the Duke’s sound before. Instrumentally, Cuff the Duke are talented but not showy, and there’s a nice, understated use of instrumentation throughout, especially with Dale Murray’s slide guitar. They’ve always been an alt-country band, but this record does sound a bit more ‘country’ to their previous ‘alt’ efforts. Perhaps Keelor’s greatest asset though has just been giving the band a bit of room to breathe, lending this album a loose, but highly proficient, feel to it.
The songs themselves are perhaps a little less immediately accessible than on their previous albums, but they reveal their charms with repeated listens. This is in general a more mature and thoughtful collection of tracks than their previous work, and there are many songs on the album that quite quickly come to occupy cranial space. Old Photograph is what would have happened if Joe Cocker had been depressed when he covered With a Little Help from My Friends. It’s almost elegiac in its evocation of pain and heartache, a tribute to times, both good and bad, gone past. Need You has a bit of a dust-blown spaghetti western feel to it. I have expected Clint Eastwood to ride past halfway through the song. It’s All a Blur has a great noirish vibe to it, melting into a reverb-heavy instrumental jam at the end, sounding a bit like Wilco at its most tunefully experimental. If there’s one complaint against this album, it is the lack of tracks that rock out a bit, like It’s All a Blur or Promises, which also picks up the pace a bit. Emotions have their hues and while this album does too, it sometimes gets bogged down a bit in slow melancholy.
Ultimately though, this is a band that started out on a real high point (2002’s excellent Life Stories for Minimum Wage) and has kept quality consistently high. With echoes of the Band, Wilco, Ennio Morricone, and many other luminaries, Cuff the Duke don’t steal from them as much as they just augment and develop the sound into a country music that can speak just as easily to a heartbroken suburban teenager as a wizened old cowboy.
Definitely check these guys out, and any of their albums are a strong bet (my personal order: 1. Cuff the Duke, 2. Way Down Here, 3. Life Stories for Minimum Wage, 4. Sidelines of the City). Wayne Petti’s solo album, City Lights Align, is also very good, but I’m less familiar with Dale Murray’s solo work (or, to my shame, his work with the Guthries, but I know a lot of his session work). Support the Duke boys however you can. You can purchase any of their albums from iTunes, Amazon, Maplemusic or from their website. You can also stream the new album in its entirety here. The band is on an extensive Canadian tour at the moment. Check their website for dates.
This leads me to the second topic of this post. I have a friend who doesn’t like Cuff the Duke because, as far as I can tell, they are from Oshawa, ONT (population 142,000) and now Toronto (population very big) and look somewhat like clean-cut, nerdy university students. As such, he questions the authenticity of their cowboy(ish) Americana. I, in turn, question the importance of authenticity in music. Would their well-written, well-played and extremely engaging songs sound any better if lead singer Wayne Petti had roped cattle as a youngster? Somehow I doubt it, and question when this emphasis on authenticity moved from ‘interesting background story about the artist’ to being a defining arbitrating factor on the quality of the music. Right from the beginning, rock and roll was more about passion than about authenticity, with pasty Elvis stealing liberally from black music and blues in general transmogrifying in interesting and novel ways not only in America, but across the pond with limey bastards who’d never even heard of Mississippi. Sure, I admit it can be tiresome if a band makes all kinds of lyrical posturing. I no more want to hear some city boy talking about his time on the range than I want to hear a country boy talk about picking up hoes (derogatory female term, not garden implement) and taking part in drive-bys. This goes with anything that rings false, but this ringing tends to make itself heard more with words than with music. Music is, at its heart, an ambiguous art form (in that you can’t quantify what makes something sad, or happy, or aggressive, and what we take to mean these things are social constructs anyway), and it is meant to be bastardised and stretched and pulled and utilised in a way that speaks to the artist and, in turn, the audience. Cuff the Duke, and other ‘inauthentic’ bands just take the musical form that moves them – in CtD’s case, alt country – and use them to get across the stories they want. I see no reason to limit this cross-pollination. I could point you to many bad, authentic bands or artists (50 Cent is more street than Jay-Z, but I prefer Mr Z’s innovation) and many good, less-than-authentic bands. Here are a couple examples of artists who are damn good, but in an image slightly skewed from their own.
Zack Condon is a precocious little bastard. He’s only 23 and has already produced two great albums (and one serviceable one) that appropriate various world music styles and (slightly) skew them into something amenable to the coffee-shop sect. He moved to Hungary for a year and then produced an Eastern European blend both accessible and authentic-feeling. He then did the same in France, before recruiting a Mexican funeral band in Oaxaca for his decent, but not stellar March of the Zapotec. The less said about his electronic music the better.
Rap music (or ‘hip hop’, as I’m sure any white guy has to put the term in inverted commas) sprang out of the ghettos of New York and LA, centring on poverty, desperation and racial tension (or something – for a better analysis, read something by, um, anybody who actually knows what they’re talking about). Richard Terfry, aka Buck 65, is a white Canadian boy from rural Nova Scotia. He doesn’t ape well-worn hip hop moves a la Eminem, but instead somehow makes rap seem natural in his world. Although I am by no means an expert in this musical genre, I think artists like Buck 65, K-Os, or K-Naan – who combine rap with other musical genres such as folk, jazz, rock and blues into some sort of heady stew – make Canadian hip hop some of the most innovative around.
To be honest, with a band like Deer Tick, I can almost see the problems with bands stepping too far out of their station. These Rhode Islanders play alt country too, combining a healthy dose of twang with a Van Morrison approach to gravelly vocals. I’m not the first to question their authenticity, and when they have songs like Houston, TX or These Old Shoes, or cover Good Night Irene like a group of saloon keepers, it just seems like they’re trying too hard to be something they aren’t. Despite that, I find myself listening to them a lot. Even if it sometimes borders on pastiche, they do it well, and when they let their guard down a bit and emote instead of smirk, their songs are really something special.
Tom Waits is a master of self-mythology. According to him, he was born in a shoebox on a train bound for hell, raised by mongooses in a burlesque house and had his first job sweeping up the Bearded Lady’s cage in a travelling carnival, or something like that. He shrouds his life – which is in all honesty probably pleasantly mundane – in mystery to protect his privacy and his mystique. Also, for a happily married and seemingly well-adjusted man, he makes some completely unhinged music. I include him on this list because only a very clever, very normal man could make music this mad.
You may recognise these guys from the Sopranos theme song. Well, they’re from England. It doesn’t fit, but it does work. They combine country influences with a hint of English acid house and gospel to make music you can party (or brand cattle) to.
Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones
Led Zeppelin stole the blues and the Rolling Stones pretended they were tough. That doesn’t reduce the magnificence of either group, but it’s hard to call it authentic. I had a professor who claims to have been at the London School of Economics with Mick Jagger, for Christ’s sake.
New Music News
Jim Carroll died this week. I knew him as the writer of a great little song called People Who Died, but he was also well-regarded in literary circles (especially in New York) and wrote The Basketball Diaries. He was 60. Also, new albums by Muse and the Drive-By Truckers (a B-Sides and Rarities compilation called the Fine Print) were released this week, so expect reviews soon. See you next week!