Album Review: The Duhks — Beyond the Blue

Sam Gazdziak | August 13th, 2014

duhksbeyondtheblueFor the last few years, you would have needed a scorecard to keep track of who was in The Duhks at any given time. It never affected the quality of the Ameri-bluegrass/Celtic/folk-cana band’s music; its four albums were pretty consistently excellent. However, Fast Paced World, The Duhks’ last album, was released back in 2008; since then, members have come and gone and occasionally come back. The group’s public appearances have been limited to some festival shows, and it seemed like its recording days were over. Fortunately, there were finally enough Duhks in a row that they could go back to the studio and knock out a new album.

Leonard Podolak has been the one constant in all of the iterations of The Duhks, and his distinctive banjo playing is as much of a signature sound for the band as the returning Jessee Havey’s soulful lead vocals. Together, the two are joined by new Duhks fiddler Rosie Newton, drummer/percussionist Kevin Garcia, and guitarist/bouzouki player Colin Savoie-Levac, as well as “non-touring founding members” Tania Elizabeth and Jordan McConnell and other guests.

Beyond the Blue is more expansive than anything the band has done before, and that’s an impressive feat. In the past, the band has been versatile enough to slip from a centuries-old Celtic or French Canadian song to a contemporary original, or even the odd Sting cover. This time around, the sound is a more electric, with lap steel, a full drum kit and even a horn section scattered throughout the album. “Banjo Roustabout” is an electrified blues-rocker — something right up Havey’s alley — and is probably the loudest the band has ever been.

On the rare occasion, the experimentation takes away from what made The Duhks stand out in the first place. The horn-driven “These Dreams” is a fine song, but aside from Podolak’s banjo fluttering in and out of the mix, there’s really nothing to distinguish it as a Duhks song. Elsewhere though, Beyond the Blue has plenty of what fans have come to expect: a couple fun instrumentals, a Cajun dance tune (“Lazy John”), and some gorgeous vocals from Havey, particularly on “Black Mountain Lullaby.”

It’s difficult to criticize a band for being too experimental when the quality of the songs are as strong as they are on this album. Even personnel changes, label changes and extended downtime have not dampened The Duhks’ creativity, and Beyond the Blue is a welcome return.

4 Stars

Preview or purchase Beyond the Blue

  1. Eric Banister
    August 13, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I had fallen away from following the band closely after their last album and stumbled across this release on Tuesday. I was glad to hear Jessee Havey back on the mic!

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