Duke Special - Songs From the Deep Forest
Duke Special has been no overnight success, having done his time in previous bands and has been performing under his current moniker for quite a few years releasing a clutch of EPs. On the back of these releases and his reputation as an awe-inspiring live performer, a major label has signed him and from this collaboration, his first full length release has finally seen the light of day.
Opening with the dramatic Wake Up Scarlett with lush strings and piano, we can see the influence of Rufus Wainwright but also the heart of sleeve emotions that Tori Amos demonstrated on her first release. He rapidly changes style for the following track, a vaudeville style tune where he lambasts his own fickle heart (a common theme in Specials' writing) as well as the state of music ("I don't like those popping idol shows, everyone knows the good things take a little longer" he laments) to then return us to the more melancholic territory with Brixton Leaves and the amazingly catchy Freewheel which is the current single from the album. "I don't want to standstill / I just want to freewheel" he sings, to then beg his true love to save him from himself.
The self-deprecating, heart-on-my-sleeve tone permeates a lot of the numerous standout tracks - No Cover Up ("expose me as your royal creep"), Portrait, Ballad of a Broken Man are prime examples of the high quality of his songwriting. Despite mixing styles from tin-pan alley to vaudeville, the sound remains focussed in no small part thanks to his refusal to mask his Northern Irish accent. He ends the album with a cover of the Amazing Pilots (Slip of a Girl) and the bittersweet This Could be my Last Day, leaving us with no doubt that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with alongside the likes of Thea Gilmore and KT Tunstall. The album is without doubt my favourite release from 2006 and a real slow-burner thanks to its intricate production and its ability to take over my CD player for days on end.
Currently on tour: dates here