Duke Special – Little Revolutions

By Steven Wright

It’s interesting to hear a collection of b-sides, cover songs and live tracks of an artist you have never heard of. You get to hear the artist in question, their influences, and what they are like live – all important in your decision to follow them. Hearing this collection of odds and ends can either make you curious enough to buy their back catalogue, or put you off enough to never listen to them again. With Little Revolutions however, I am happy to say that Duke Special will be added to my album collection.

It is a very hard sound to describe. Inspired by vaudeville and big band performances, his songs meander and change pace throughout; some slow and sombre, others marching along to rhythmic drum beats, some even doing both. He reminds me a little of Devendra Banhart, but Irish of course. The instruments help to convey this strange sound by using accordions, clarinets, trumpets, and even a cheese grater and an egg whisk.

The album itself is quite mismatched but it does work. It opens with a cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Ain’t Got No’,  which is possibly the weirdest opening to an album I have ever heard. He also covers Prince, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Soft Cell, Razorlight, Beach Boys and Radiohead – quite an eclectic mix, no? The standout cover is the live version of  ‘Tainted Love’ which features Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy. The two voices work well together and you get a sense of the fun that they had on stage.

His own tracks are the real stand-out, especially ‘Our Love Goes Deeper’, ‘No Cover Up’ and ‘Deep’. The songs are inherently quite cheery, but you can feel the sorrow and emotions throughout. The fact that he sings with a thick Irish accent helps, adding a ton of charm to the sound. I have a thing about Irish/Scottish artists who don’t try to hide their accents, preferring to use them with pride.

The one track I want to heap praise on is ‘I Think I am Losing You’. The first thing to grip me about the song was the lyrics –

Tied to my heart, so I’ll never let you go
I’m working out my loyalties
In the shadow of the volcano
Tied to my heart
Take the needle to the skin
Plunge it in the deepest part
Just stay there where the ink goes in

I love them. His delivery is perfect, slowly stopping at key words, adding emphasis to each statement. Then when the chorus kicks in and the tempo picks up, you start moving, tapping your feet and singing along. It’s a beautiful little song.

Like I said, the album does work, but would be preferable listening if you are already a fan. It would be best to save your money and buy his extensive back catalogue instead. However the album has done its job and made me want to hear more of this strange little fellow. I think we could just have a long and illustrious friendship ahead of us.

# Audio CD (14 Nov 2009)
# Number of Discs: 1
# Label: Reel To Reel
# ASIN: B002YT8D9


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