The Duhks,
(Sugar Hill, 2006)

The Winnipeg-based Duhks -- pronounced "ducks" -- are young and formidably talented. On Migrations, their third CD, they document their continuing evolution from a generally straightforward folk string band to a still Anglo-Celtic-based but more eclectic outfit incorporating jazz, soul, pop and Latin rhythms. This owes to the prominent presence of singer Jessee Havey and percussionist Scott Senior, neither from a folk background, who seem more and more to define the band's sound and direction.

Under the superior production skills of Tim O'Brien and Gary Paczosa, Migrations beams brightly and stirs resonantly, so infused with vital energy that it could sustain the illusion that Duhks are quacking and otherwise carrying on in your living room. Possessed of the power to blow us out of the room if she were witless enough to emote like a bombastic diva, Havey's vocals are instead restrained, intimate and friendly. And that's so whether put to use in moody meditations like Dan Frechette's "Who Will Take My Place?" and Havey's own "Out of the Rain" or old-time spirituals such as "Moses, Don't Get Lost" and the heavenly "Turtle Dove." Her singing is particularly discerning on Shawn Byrne and Chuck McCarthy's "Ol' Cook Pot," where she conflates, with intelligence and tact, the song's conflicting strains of humor and pathos.

The remaining band members are all marvels in their own considerable rights: Tania Elizabeth (fiddle, banjo), Leonard Podolak (banjo, fiddle, bouzouki) and Jordan McConnell (guitar, whistle, pipes). While in simple temporal fact of tender years, the Duhks play with a level of technical facility that grizzled veterans could -- and do -- envy. Even with fairly complex arrangements and sky-high ambitions, they're in command of all they do, and manifestly in love with the textured, integrated sounds they're creating.

As accomplished as this recording is, however, one hopes that next time the Duhks will slow down a bit, take a deep breath or two and allow for the occasional sparer, less-is-more arrangement. On Migrations they're giving us all they've got, and they show that (a) they do indeed have it and (b) they can surely give it to us. Though pleasurable, the overall effect feels rather like too much of a good thing, like indulgence in a too-large slice of a delicious chocolate cake. The record clocks in at 40 minutes, and I suspect that -- as Dr. Johnson once wryly observed of Paradise Lost -- none will wish it longer.

Even so, the Duhks are among the most acclaimed young acoustic bands going, and justly so. They are, we trust, only their first three steps into what ought to be a grand migration over a rich musical landscape.

by Jerome Clark
9 September 2006

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