By his own admission, bluesy singer-songwriter Duke Garwood is a very angry man. Not afraid to speak his mind, the artist allows his tangle with tough emotions to take centre stage in his sixth studio album, Garden of Ashes.
‘Coldblooded’ opens the record in a smoky-haze of harmony and hardship. If HBO’s True Detective were to ever make a return, this would make a fitting soundtrack. Follow up, ‘Sonny Boogie’ gives us a brief respite, with a melodic groove counteracting the gloom surrounding it. This is another highlight on a record full of them. With Garwood’s “Waiting for the stars to fall…” reprise doubling up nicely as both a piece of wistful imagery and a barbed sting at the insta-celeb culture so prominent in modern society. Despite a brief tonal shift, it is the wondrously grim imagery and stern vocal delivery that weirdly provides the most joy here. Thankfully, the rest of the record is chock full of both.
Almost Lynchian in their imagism, Duke Garwood’s unnerving lyrics describe discarded bodies and unsettling memories in unflinching fashion. A little nihilistic? Maybe. But this dead behind the eyes attitude makes the more honest and heartfelt moments which do follow hit even harder in contrast. With each line being delivered with steely-eyed integrity, Garwood metaphorically picks apart himself and those around him in meticulously downtrodden detail. This added heartache provides more anguish to a record that will continually bring a lump to your throat.
The authentic feel and artistic craft that has gone into the production of this album is aided by the its strong level of cohesion. The record has a great flow, with each song invoking images of smoky venues and dimly lit nooks as seamlessly as they conjure up imagery of dusty open fields and distant sunsets. Sounding weathered and devilishly imperfect, Duke delivers every note like he truly means it.
What is always a worry when listening to music this soothing however, is that the slow pace will force the songs to sleepily drag on. Thankfully that is not the case here. No, the morose relentlessness of this record will not be for everyone, and this is a release that will require a lot of time and attention, but for all of it’s heart-on-sleeve earnestness, this has a level of depth that will make the repeated listens required seem worth it.
Stemming from a very real headspace, Garden of Ashes is a raw and earnest record that hooks the attention harder than a dousing of pop derivatives ever would. Utilising anger as an energy, the songwriter has used real life tension to fuel a record that scorches the earth as well as it soothes the soul. This is another fine addition to the unlikely blues man’s back-catalogue and well worth seeking out if you like your music with a melancholic edge.
Garden of Ashes is out February 3rd via Heavenly Recordings.