Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reconfigured Duhks return to Tacoma

[Photos by David Conklin]

With all the recent personnel changes in the lineups of progressive acoustic bands, this was my first chance to catch up a band that started the trend already a year ago. That would be The Duhks, where Sarah Dugas replaced Jessica Havey as lead singer. More recently, Dugas' brother Christian has joined in on drums, replacing former percussionist Scott Senor (although they will apparently use both drummers on occasion, as they did on the recent Cayamo cruise).

The Duhks are one of the bands that have led the wave of so-called "new traditionalists," mixing folk styles from various world cultures with a heavy dollop of rock and roll energy. The Winnipeg MB band has been a hit on the roots festival circuit for several years now, including at two earlier Wintergrass festivals.

After missing them at the festivals I attended in 2007, I was anxious to see how the personnel changes affected the sound and personality of the band. As a bonus, the band has a new CD in the works, and I also got to sample The Duhks' new material.

Dugas certainly has the pipes for fronting the band—good range, tone and projection. Her duets with fiddler Tania Elizabeth, who now gets a more prominent supporting role, were very fine. It is not as clear that her personality and image meshes as well, however.

Not that I would expect her to match Havey in the body art department, but there is something rebellious about The Duhks' persona and Dugas seemed possibly too conventional for the part.

Mannerisms aside, The Duhks' music was true and consistent in the older material, and the new songs (a new album is on the way) build on the band's sound rather than depart from it.

They kicked off both sets I saw with a rocking "Fast-Paced World," which seems to describe both the band's international lifestyle and its up-tempo musical attack. As much as Senor added to the band with his variety of percussion instruments, the addition of a full-blown drum kit serves to amp up the proceedings even more as they swung next into the Afro-rhythmic "Old Cook Pot" from the last CD.

Next they displayed their more lyrical quality, taking on the harmonies and catchy hook of "You Don't Feel It," written by Dan Frechette, who also penned the group's hit "Mists of Down Below." That might be the single to look for on the new record.

At this point in the show, the previously quiet band leader Leonard Podolak stepped up leading an instrumental medley and a fun sing-along about all all-night interstate car ride, "95 South Cackalack," which seems destined to be a trademark. He also entertained the crowd with his implsh stage banter.

As mentioned, Elizabeth seems to be playing more of a role vocally, but her main thing is her hotshot fiddling. She and guitarist Jordan McConnell took a thrilling instrumental duet, and then set the rhythm on the Cajun-flavored "Down to the River."

The overall impression I came away with is that The Duhk's sound and musical identity remains consistent despite a 40 percent turnover in personnel. They are also one of the hardest working acoustic bands, touring worldwide and appearing at festivals large and small.

I may catch them next at Festival International de Louisiane, the Francophone fest in Lafayette LA where they should fit especially well. I hope to have a follow up then.


kellybeez said...

I find that in whatever context the Duhks present themselves, the music is always true; the effort is always over the top; the result is always worth getting out to see. The Duhks are on a mission, and I for one, appreciate the task.

Anonymous said...

If you want a professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered live recording without the carbon cost of a CD, check out


They are doing a post Earth Day benefit at the end of this month.

I would expect a couple of their new unrecorded songs to be captured on this live CD.

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