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Review: 'DARE DUKES'
'Thugs And China Dolls'   

-  Label: 'Mazarine Records'
-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '17th January 2012'

Our Rating:
Dare Dukes' varied life journey has given him ample opportunity to witness varieties of strangeness across America from his home town of Saratoga in California, through Boston, Minneapolis and New York then onto his current base of Savannah, Georgia.

As the title of his sophomore album highlights, the weird contrasts of the modern world are a constant source of fascination for him.

The co-existence of thuggish aggression and porcelain-like fragility is just one of the many paradoxes which can makes daily life a potential minefield.

Be careful of what we wish for, seems to be one of the subtexts of the title track which contains the warning: "beware the music of shopping malls".

Take also the strange juxtapositions Dukes makes on Lament Of The Subway Rider written about a friend from NYC : "I want a stereo lover, broken like in a country song, we'll help each other to suffer, pretty like a sing-a-long".

Similarly, on Simon Says he picks out the disparity between shrieking cicadas and rumbling freight trains. This twisted love song begins with the line "let's keep things simple and unadorned" which is somewhat ironic given the multi-layered complexity of his lyrics.

Dukes is naturally drawn to eccentrics.

On his debut album (Prettiest Transmitter Of All), The Ballad of Darius McCollum was about a man who hijacked a commuter subway train.

On Thugs And China Dolls, Jim Egger's Parrot is based on a real life character prone to violent outbursts against archbishops and other figures of the establishment. To help him keep calm, Eggers carries a caged African Grey Parrot everywhere he goes.

Knowing the back story to such songs helps to decode the oblique and sometimes obscure references.

Dukes reveals that the catchy Meet You At The Bus is about two lovers who decide to take a bus to anywhere but even songs like this are never told straight.

I suspect he prefers to retain a sense of mystery and, while I would have liked a lyric sheet to refer to, it's also fun to be caught off guard with smart lines like "the pharmacist knows there is power in placebo".

The opening track (Old West Road) is a snapshot of good and bad images of a street in Savannah. It notes that this is a part of town where you might get taken to church or gunned down and the recurring line "pretty things explode" put me in mind the great insight from Taking Heads in Wild Wild Life "things fall apart - it's scientific".

Something of Dukes' offbeat observations are in the same territory as David Byrne and there are also traces of the literate evasiveness of Michael Stipe and REM.

Alt.Country maverick Jim White calls Dukes "one of my favorite bohemian singer songwriters ever" and White himself produces the Simon Says track (the rest is co-produced by Dukes and Suny Lyons).

Acoustic instruments - banjo, accordion, mandolin - mingle with strings and the horn section from TV On The Radio so, if you're looking for a genre label, baroque-folk is as good as any.

In addition to his band - The Blackstock Collection - the record also features Thayer Saranno (Of Montreal) on piano and Marla Hansen (Sufjan Stevens; The National, Kanye West) on viola and backing vocals.

Hansen can be heard to good effect on the closing track, Mighty Love, which could easily have been sneaked in as a late addition to Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs.

Overall, this is a great leap forward from Dare Dukes' equally fine debut album enhanced by lively and inventive musical arrangements.

Irrespective of whether the setting of your cultural brow is high, low or somewhere between, you will discover something new on each hearing.

Dare Dukes' Website
  author: Martin Raybould

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DARE DUKES - Thugs And China Dolls