Category: The Duhks

The Duhks Cover: Sting, Tracy Chapman, Gillian Welch et al.
(plus: the Top Covers of 2006)

November 23rd, 2008 — 09:24 am

I didn’t do a “best-of” list last year, and I wasn’t planning on doing one this year. But back in 2006, before the coverblog started, I posted a Top Songs of 2006 tracklist for my own amusement on my now-abandoned personal blog; the focus wasn’t covers, but the list included several, including Jenny Lewis and co. version of Traveling Wilburys hit Handle With Care at number 7, and Teddy Thompson’s Leonard Cohen cover Tonight Will Be Fine coming in a respectable fourth. It was, I am just now realizing, my very first music blog post; looking back, I’m quite pleased with how well it turned out.

Tied for number ten with The Be Good Tanya’s delicious interpretation of Prince hit When Doves Cry was a wonderful cover of Tracy Chapman’s Mountains O’ Things by Acadian folk-rock band The Duhks; though the songs ended up low on the totem pole, of all the tunes on that list, those two remain the ones I listen to most often today. Here’s what I had to say about that:

Two Canadian bands with female vocalists from opposite ends of the trad-alt-folk spectrum cover black American songwriter hits from the mid eighties. Exceptionally well. With banjo.

Ironically, though their playing styles are disparate, the originals were conversely so. The rough backporch plucking of Doves reframes the beatperfection of Prince’s original; the crisp, bright acadian-rock turn of Mountains brings the distance of a greek chorus to folkie Chapman’s raw, plaintive lament. And so on.

Both The Be Good Tanyas and The Duhks are known for strong covers; to combine them would be foolhardy and unwieldy. A coin flip says we’ll save the Be Good Tanyas for another day; happily, there’s much to say about both the collected coverage and the uniquely authentic modern sound of The Duhks.

I was lucky enough to see The Duhks live several times, most notably in a combined form with The Mammals billed as Platypus, a perfect taxonomy geek joke. Though their lineup has changed in the last year, and their newest album was a bit more poppy overall, in my mind’s eye, they’re still a wonderfully punk-looking collection of young folks, flitting around the stage with spunk and a keen eye for combining the traditional instruments and reels of their native Winnipeg with a fuller percussive beat.

Theirs is a particularly Acadian form of folk rock, almost celtic at times, funky with plucked strings and chunky with old-timey fiddle and strum patterns, its hybrid nature and its overall tone and timbre consistent with the burgeoning neotraditional movement we’ve been going on about here on Cover Lay Down. Their live performance is practically trancelike, and their album work is only slightly more Nickel Creek than Uncle Earl, balancing evenly between the traditional world and something new and reverent. As today’s set reveals, the sound is both thoroughly enjoyable, and perfectly suited to the discerning tastes of those who prefer their neotrad a bit more polished.

One-shot 2007 side project Turtle Duhks, which featured Jordan McConnell and Jordan Podolak of The Duhks and Lydia Garrison of Turtle Island Dream, leaned more towards the delicate, ragged appalachian side of the trend; the track featured below is somewhat of an anomaly on True Lover, but it is an exquisite conceit nonetheless, melodic and sweet, masterfully interpreted from the original recording by Akwasasne Nation wolfclan member Bear Fox, and in the original Mohawk language, too.

Fast Paced World was released in August to mixed reviews; I have heard the bulk of it, and though it is indeed transitional and a bit more singer-oriented, I think it marks a solid stop on the path that has become the Duhks’ march to folkfame and due recognition. There’s also some great sound in the live recordings from Merlefest 2007, which represent the first official recordings featuring new vocalist Sarah Dugas; their live version of Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love offers especially strong evidence that The Duhks are still The Duhks.

Out of respect for the label, I have chosen not to post any songs from those most recent works, but I recommend both, and all the albums previous; if you’re buying music this week or just thinking ahead for the folklover on your holiday list, head on over to The Duhks’ webstore to pick up their collected works, to for the Merlefest show, and to Sugar Hill for the Turtle Duhks project.

Oh, and Today’s Bonus Coverfolk is the rest of the covers off that 2006 Top Songs list. You didn’t really think I’d leave you hanging, did you?

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964 comments » | The Duhks

Covered in Folk: Randy Newman (Bonnie Raitt, The Duhks, J.J. Cale, Shelby Lynne, and 9 more!)

April 30th, 2008 — 01:49 am

Though my father hasn’t missed it in decades, I haven’t been able to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since I started teaching over a decade ago — something about the way a last gasp of hunker-down-and-teach takes over public education as we approach state testing, and the long downhill slide toward the end of the school year. But every year as we hit the last weekend in April my mind begins to muse upon the great acts I saw down there the few years I made it: Los Lobos, the Indigo Girls, Taj Mahal, Blues Traveler, the Neville Brothers, a holy host of Marsalis siblings, and many, many more.

What stands out strongest after all these years is the time I saw Randy Newman play a whole set of songs about rain in a downpour one year at Jazzfest. We were muddy football fields away from the stage, umbrella-less to boot, but what I remember best is the clarity of his set, just that wry warbly scratchy voice and a barroom piano style, over a substance chock full of extremely unreliable narrators and sarcasm, with a power that I had never really heard in his music before.

The scene was terrible; the view was worse. But Newman’s music got burned into my brain. And since then, though I haven’t made it to another performance, I’ve never passed up a chance to listen to his songs, no matter who is singing them.

Randy Newman’s original performances aren’t folk, quite — though as a set of produced music that, at its best, focuses and features the simple melodies and heartfelt, story-troped acoustic output of a songwriter and his stringed instrument, much of his songs share the qualities of both traditional folkways and modern singer-songwriter folk. That so many from the folkworld and beyond have managed to take his work and make it beautiful in their own way acknowledges this ground, it is true. But that the songs speak — as all good folk should — to a nation and a people and a heart all at once is both a testament to the inherent beauty in the songs themselves, and the inherent and universal beauty in the human condition, even at its most terrible and sodden and rained-upon, of which they speak so effectively.

Today, in honor of my tenth consecutive year missing Jazzfest, we bring you a predominantly southern-tinged set of Randy Newman coversongs. Though I could not resist a song or two from the lighter and less historically-relevant side of the Newman catalog, those younger folks who only know Newman from his recent work scoring Disney soundtracks may be pleasantly surprised to find that in his younger days, Newman was a gifted songwriter, known for his ability to expose the whole range of the human experience, from the poignant to the historical accurate to the absurd, rub it raw, and somehow manage to make it touching all the same. Sometimes, I guess, it takes a little rain to make you really understand.

Today’s bonus coversongs come with little fanfare after two megaposts in three days:

  • Randy Newman covers Harry Nilsson’s Remember
  • Randy Newman “covers” Every Man A King, bringing his trademark irony to lyrics originally by Huey P. Long just by singing them straight alongside his Good Old Boys

Randy Newman will play this year’s Jazzfest on Thursday evening. Can’t make it? Check out this related post @ Star Maker Machine: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band covers Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

885 comments » | Bonnie Raitt, Chris Smither, Covered in Folk, JJ Cale, Mae Robertson, Marc Broussard, Martin Simpson, Peter Mulvey, Randy Newman, Shelby Lynne, The Duhks, Tim O'Brien