Duke Special - The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen

Published Saturday 17th July 2010
Duke Special - The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen
Duke Special - The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen

RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 94022-16590
LABEL: Reel To Reel Recordings

Reviewed by Haydon Spenceley

Ireland's Duke Special, Peter Wilson to his mum, has had a long and varied career, punctuated with bouts of wild creativity and experimentalism. From his days in the much lauded (by me, at least) Booley, Booley House And Benzine Headset, and during the last few years, as his persona as the dreadlocked Duke has evolved, Duke has always been at the vanguard of vaudevillian drama. As the years go by, more and more we have on our hands a serious songwriting talent, and performance artist, whose music is beginning to hold that timeless quality for which so many musicians strain, but so few attain. And so, with his legacy growing, Duke presents "The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen". This release is a triple disc offering, no less, which can be enjoyed in three distinct parts, or as one extremely satisfying whole. The first disc, 'The Stage', or 'Duke Special Presents The Songs From Mother Courage And Her Children' is a full album of dramatic, string-infused, piano pop, sometimes wandering in sound, towards Rufus Wainwright, but always indubitably Duke. The album is based on the 1930s anti-war play by Bertold Brecht, and tells its story over the course of 12 songs. The ambition required to carry off a project such as this one would dwarf most people, but not Duke. And so, we get "Yvette", "Cook's Song" and "Song Of The Hours", three of the best songs ever to make their way from Duke's imagination and on to record, and a narrative thread which flows seamlessly throughout the album. Just when you've managed to get your head around that one, we're moving on to the second part of the trilogy. 'Huckleberry Finn' is a short, sharp and sweet EP of five songs based on Mark Twain's celebrated novel, or more specifically Kurt Weill's unfinished musical based on it. Here, "Apple Jack" and "This Time Next Year" stand out. Even in its short state, there is much here in sound and songwriting craft to enjoy, and this piece would stand beautifully on its own. It has to be said though that it fares much better as part of the whole here, acting as something of a pause before the final event, 'The Silver Screen'. And so, the third disc of the trilogy, 'The Silver Screen', or "The Silent World Of Hector Mann" brings us to perhaps the most ambitious work of Duke's career so far. Produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Pixies), and featuring the songsmithery of men such as Matt Hales (Aqualung), Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) and many others, all the songs here were based on Paul Auster's novel The Book Of Hours. In spite of the multitude of writing voices, the album works beautifully as a cohesive piece, and again, features some of Duke's best work to date. "Wanda, Darling Of The Jockey Club" is the kind of thing you'll be singing in the shower all summer. Penned by Neil Hannon, it has all the attributes to be the big hit many of us have been willing Duke to have for quite some time now. The closer for the project, "Tellers Tale" is the type of song which will stop you in your tracks and simply make you glad to be alive. Even in such a wildly diverse collection of pieces of work, the talent, ambition and sheer quality of Duke Special's work come shining through. Peppered with memorable moments, this handsomely-packaged box set is one leftfield collection you won't want to miss out on.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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