The Dutchess and the Duke’s Strange Journey
The Pacific Northwest duo have reunited -- yet again -- playing their dark folk music at the Cactus Club.
The Week’s Top Show, The Dutchess & the Duke at Cactus Club, Thursday, August 28
Music critic Greil Marcus once suggested that Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska and Elvis Costello’s 1986 album King of America were folk masterworks that could have been made only by singer-songwriters who matured with the shadow of punk always present.
If Marcus was right—and his lesser books, like 2011’s The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, are built on overreach and pretense as much as his greater books, like 1975’s Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, are built on deep knowledge and thought—then perhaps the Dutchess & the Duke were aware of a more menacing shadow.
In 2007, they switched to acoustic instruments and deliberately anachronistic folk-derived tunes and rhythms. They followed “Reservoir Park,” a single that year, with She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke, an LP, the next.
After touring and becoming a definite, if minor, indie sensation, Morrison and Lortz smoothed out their sound and turned more hopeful for 2009’s Sunset/Sunrise, but they were still as stark and bleakly beautiful as the defoliated branches of trees against a winter sky.
And then, after even more touring, the duo disbanded, with little fanfare or announcement, near the end of 2010. With only slightly more fanfare, the two have reunited this year and have promised new material along with the older stuff.
They haven’t scheduled a lot of shows yet: this and a Chicago stop the night before are the only announced gigs thus far. If there’s one lesson punk seems to have taught Morrison and Lortz (and the rest of us), it’s to be prepared for when things both old and new just don’t work out.
Friday, August 29: Sena Ehrhardt at Shank Hall
Despite the trope of straight-laced parents who huffily disapprove of their children’s desires to become artists and entertainers, it’s not hard to find musicians who have the full support of their mothers and fathers.
Sena Ehrhardt’s father, a blues guitarist, was perhaps the crucial influence on the Minnesota resident’s decision to become a blues singer. Having stepped aside as a member of her band in concert and on record, the dad’s education of the daughter remains evident in the power, especially the vocal power, she feeds into her forthcoming third LP, Live My Life.
A taste of said voice and said album, courtesy of her label:
Friday, August 29: Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Turner Hall Ballroom
Musicians with the best of intentions have often tried to enshrine traditional jazz as a museum piece; musicians looking out just for themselves have often tried to dismiss it as one. Preservation Hall Jazz Band has, for more than 50 years, kept the New Orleans style of trad jazz lively and free of museum mustiness.
The current ensemble’s most recent album, 2013’s That’s It!, is actually the first time PHJB has relied entirely on songs written by its own players (albeit with help here and there from Paul Williams and Adele favorite Dan Wilson). It therefore maintains the tradition while giving it a nudge to make sure it knows what year this is.
Saturday, August 30: Anna Nalick at Shank Hall
About a decade ago, Anna Nalick enjoyed tremendous good fortune: her 2005 debut disc, Wreck of the Day, found her working with former members of Blind Melon and a producer for Tori Amos and notched a first hit, “Breathe (2 AM),” that remains in adult-contemporary rotation.
After a tour that lasted years, though, she almost disappeared. In 2009, she and her major label separated; in 2011, she independently produced Broken Doll & Odds & Ends, a carefully crafted follow-up to Wreck. As she tours smaller venues and prepares material for a third album, her fortune now resides in her talent.
One of the second album’s songs:
Sunday, August 31:Old Earth and Twin Brother at Club Garibaldi
Cynics, especially the professional variety, don’t buy that line about making art for art’s sake, and most of the time I am skeptical of the claim. However, I think it’s true of Old Earth and Twin Brother, two simpatico Milwaukee musical acts playing together at this show.
Old Earth is mainly Todd Umhoefer, a singer and songwriter of, in his own words, “experimental folk-rock,” and his brand-new A Wake in the Wells long-player appealingly confirms the definition. Twin Brother’s three members are among the many local musicians who helped Umhoefer while making time for their own band’s recent alt-rockish release, Swallow the Anchor.
Sample each here: