The Caribbeanized fiddle tunes are just the beginning. The Duhks are one of those bands that can pull off playing a series of songs in completely different genres because their own musical personalities remain distinct and consistent. Duhks founder Leonard Podolak is a banjoist who picked up the instrument after hearing Bela Fleck at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. (Fleck, in turn, produced the Duhks' U.S. debut album on the Sugar Hill label.) He and guitarist Jordan McConnell can effortlessly rough in basic melodic material for tunes ranging from traditional ballads ("The Wagoner's Lad") to the productions of classic and contemporary Canadian, British, and American songwriters. The Duhks do a reggae version of Sting's "Love Is the Seventh Wave," and in "Blue" they offer a level-voiced tale of child sexual abuse and its aftermath. Vocalist Jessica Havey adapts herself remarkably to the variety of music the Duhks perform, and on their debut album only a pair of traditional African American spiritual pieces fall flat.
The Duhks join fiddle tunes into "sets" in the traditional manner, and they do something similar with vocal pieces: a song may suddenly erupt into an instrumental interlude in a completely new rhythm. It might seem as though the music is about to fly apart, but the basic instrumental sound is distinctive enough that it hangs together. Eclecticism and stylistic pastiche are the order of the day, it's true, but here these trends seem to take on some sinew.
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