- Album: 'Garden of Ashes'
- Label: 'Heavenly Recordings'
- Genre: 'Blues'
- Release Date: '3rd February 2017'
Duke Garwood is one of those musicians who’s spent a long time lurking in the shadows and on the peripheries. While his 2013 collaboration with Mark Lanegan certainly raised his profile, Heavy Love (2015) really brought him into the light, and saw him hailed by The Guardian as ‘the bluesman’s bluesman’. The stripped back blues songs and Garwood’s intimate delivery made for an album of quiet intensity.
Of ‘Garden of Ashes’, Duke says. “I was inspired to follow ‘Heavy Love’ with a warm bath of honey for the soul. It’s a stare down to the beast of hate trying to take over our garden. Time for Man to be the beautiful warrior and stand up for his loves.”
This metaphorical bath involved a return home to the UK to focus on the album in favour of work with Mark Lanegan and horn-playing playing in Archie Bronson Outfit. You might consider it a bold move for such an understated artist, but on the evidence of the material on ‘Garden of Ashes’, it was the right one. The material is only half the story, though: so much of it’s about the execution. The arrangements may be sparse, but the production is rich, there’s a depth to the sound that gives the album a distinctive sound, a warmth that’s part analogue, but predominantly Garwood: his voice, his guitar.
With a shuffling beat and fuzzy guitar accompanying Garwood’s grizzled tones, opener ‘Coldblooded’ has a rich, soulful side riding with the well-worn blues groove, and ‘Sonny Boogie’ follows with a mesmeric, laid-back groove. This kind of dark, minimal blues isn’t the music of youth: it requires experience and gravitas to create let alone pull off. It’s not something that can be learned or practiced, it has to be lived. And Garwood has lived it, alright. He doesn’t need to be specific: when he opens his mouth, you feel the experiences pouring out.
There’s a slow, stripped-back sombreness to ‘Days Gone Old’, and ‘Heat Us Down’ sways through a Doorsy, psychedelic-tinged blues, laced with a deeply soulful vibe, with the drums and bass locked together in a motoric groove, thick and heavy in a smog of sedation. ‘Sleep’ has an almost Leonard Cohenesque quality, as Garwood gently croons his lullaby in a tone which moves from boot-bottom growl to a soft lilt, his bittersweet lyrics gliding over a picked acoustic guitar.
With Garwood, it’s as much about the hidden depth as the surface: the songs on ‘Garden of Ashes’ all hint at currents running far beneath, invisible to the eye and ear, yet nevertheless somehow perceptible.