Friday, November 30th, 2007
Sidelines Of The City
I lived in Oshawa, Ontario once, about a decade ago, for four months. Just a Summer, whilst on a co-op work term. In that short time, my car – a harmless, innocuous 1985 Dodge Aries – was subject to all manner of indignities by the locals, including having the neutral safety switch disabled (someone climbed underneath in the middle of the night and unplugged it) and on another occasion, stealing my license plates (which were later recovered after said “local yokel” – the police officer’s term – put them on his own car and proceeded to run a red light). Now I didn’t have terrifically high opinion of the ‘Shwa before I lived there but these incidents certainly didn’t help.
That said, I’d like to think I’m a bigger person than to hold the actions of a few locals against the population of an entire city… but then that leaves me without an excuse for steadfastly ignoring Oshawans Cuff The Duke for so long. It’s not like they were off my radar – I saw them live some four years ago and was impressed, their first two records got good press and caught frontman Wayne Petti solo twice this year – yet their new one, Sidelines Of The City, is the first time I’ve ever sat down and actually listened to one. And no, it wasn’t a Damascene moment or anything, but it is a very good and tuneful record that deserves a mention.
Cuff The Duke have always been lumped in as an “alt-country” band, having started out in an era where that term could be used without wrapping it in quotes, but by album three it doesn’t seem like a wholly appropriate label. Their roots definitely still show but the musical affectations that one would normally associate with the style – steel guitar, whiskey-damaged vocals, sweaty blue-collar aesthetic – are either largely absent or used in moderation.
Instead, the Dukes offer earnest, lightly decorated folk-rock reminiscent of another Petti or Petty (as in Tom) with a dash of Big Star jangle. In other words, good stuff that’s as compact as it needs to be but capable of stretching way out – a balance that’s best exemplified by early on as the epic “Failure To Some” leads into the pop-perfect “Remember The Good Times”. But unlike his homonymic counterpart, Petti’s voice won’t drive anyone away – his high, clear voice perfectly compliments his direct, heartfelt songwriting, be it in a stomping rock number or bit of acoustic balladry. Those seeking riddles wrapped in enigmas in the lyrics booklet should look elsewhere – Petti’s pen deals in from-the-heart directness and detailed slice-of-life observationals with a good dose of wit though never clever for clever’s sake. Maybe the ‘Shwa isn’t so bad after all, though you’ll forgive me if my foot gets a little heavy on the gas whenever I pass Simcoe St on the 401…
Cuff The Duke are at the Mod Club tonight for an early show (doors at 6:30) with Land Of Talk and will be at Massey Hall opening for Blue Rodeo on February 28 and 29 of next year. They grace the cover of this week’s eye and are also the subject of features from Chart, BeatRoute and Canada.com. The band have also been keeping a tour blog at The National Post. The MP3s below come from Cuff The Duke’s first two records – to hear stuff from the new one, hit up their MySpace.
Exclaim! and The Boston Globe talk to Richard Hawley, who makes his Toronto debut – with full band, if you were wondering – at the Horseshoe next Wednesday night. You cannot miss this show but if you don’t hurry up and get a ticket, you will.
NME reports that the Manic Street Preachers will be giving away a Christmas track free to their newsletter subscribers starting tomorrow. Because nothing says Christmas like aging socialist revolutionary glam-punk rockers.
The AV Club offers a primer on the brilliance that is the Coen Brothers.