Duke Garwood is a rugged, London, multi-instrumentalist who's first album was released in 2005 on Loog Records, this was followed by a multitude of others (8 to be exact) through the years to the present. 12 years on, his latest release Garden of Ashes, is a lo-fi, distorted collection of mellow yet gritty numbers, with an obvious ode to the dirty blues ensemble he's been mastering for years.
In the initial track "Coldblooded" and throughout, there seems to be an old-school, porch-sitting, 'playing the blues' type of vibe but with a more contemporary feel. Old-school, drawled and a little dirty, the sleeping with a bearded motorcyclist when your daddy wants you to marry a lawyer, kind of dirty. The jaded American Dream.
There also seems to be a slight hint of a psychedelic desert mirage element to it, this shines through on track 2, "Sonny Boogie" and continues throughout as it builds this lovely transcendental plane for us to explore. It has the feel of looking at the blinding sun whilst traversing a desert in a post-apocalyptic mindset whilst losing your mind, slowly but surely descending into existential madness. I loved his pungent imagery and gospel vibe that he possesses as the album progresses. His voice at points, mixed with the vocal harmonies, seems to mimic the style of a slide guitar, his deep rooted style seems to emanate from him so strongly that he has become the instrument. The vocal stylings do vary on tracks, he seems to have an odd vibrato in his voice that I'd liken to that of David Bowie on Blackstar, haunting and yet vulnerable....
Track 4 is almost like spoken word, stripped down with an underlying ambience, although it takes a lull at track 5, "Sing to the Sky", almost like an accidental interlude, but it is setting a scene and is the turning point of the entire album, so listening to the album as a whole is necessary as this is an interconnecting point, but not strong enough to hold its own as a standalone track. This track is the vehicle for transitioning between the more positive outlook and the ever growing somber tone of hindsight, experience and losing touch with the ideal you envisaged. Track 6 comes in with an ominous rattle, and the entire tone of the music shifts into longing and decline.
This album seems to me to be like losing your way, limbo and then rebirth, it seems like a slow ascent to freedom or descent into chaos. Specifically the track "Days Gone Old" (as well as the whole vibe of the album) reminded me of Eddie Vedder's soundtrack for Into the Wild and reflects the same kind of premise of spiritual journey, resolution, revelation and all things in between.
It quickly evolves into something more intense, with the guitar strings starting to sound quite celestial at points, harp-like with the addition of drums adding to the building tension and dreamlike atmosphere. With track 5 as the preliminary warm up to the albums ascent, and track 6 pushing the boundaries into some other ambiguous realm, this continues to strengthen the reoccurring themes and pushes it forward.
Track 10, is the penultimate track and seems to be verging on the edge of resolution or the demise of any kind of rationality, or perhaps it is completely rationalising his situation, as if slipping in and out of consciousness. This track shows a lot more vocal range in comparison to the latter songs and is put forth as a lullaby, the track is entitled "Sleep" and the finger plucking guitar likens itself to traditional lullabies with that harsh contrast in tone and lyricism. However his lyrics reference lullabies too, to me, this envisaged a peaceful yet dissonant track that could lull you to sleep in a somber siren song, or could relate to the cycle of life and the unavoidable acceptance of death or regret, or the end of some form of cycle or journey; I know this is a seemingly huge leap, but, I'll get back to that tangent when discussing the resolution of the album.
The final track is a throwback to the first, even in the title there is blatant reference, "Coldblooded the Return" and this brings the album full circle and makes you aware that this is very much a cyclical, conceptual album that needs to be listened to in full to grasp the concept that he may be trying to portray. The last track uses layered voices and a stripped back choral aspect to give depth and it gives this a strong and building sense of holy, gospel elements to the track. This is what led me to the idea of life, death and a spiritual yearning, it possesses another worldly vibe as if he was trying to grasp at something larger than our corporeal understanding. The similarities in the guitar riff in the first and last track have come full circle also, and, although different in key and tone draws a lot of parallels, a lot darker and slower but none the less obviously related to one another. The last song refers back to the first in blatant lyricism as well as musically, almost like a loss of faith, or possibly hindsight. The imagery is pressing throughout the album, a lot of references to the sun contrasted with darkness and regret, some kind of twisted trade of knowledge, sin and opulence, the organic contrasted with human flaws and finitude. "Let us trade a tale of love and good, gone bad", he adds onto the lyricism of the first track with little alterations that hint at an evolution of ideas and irony. In the first "lonely songs will echo here, long after we leave, let us make a deal, double or nothing, let us trade a tale of wrong and good" in the last "lonely boots will echo here, long after we leave, let us make a deal, double or nothing, be we high or be we low, trouble found is trouble grown" as if reiterating that we make our own paths, sow our own seeds of self-destruction and self-sabotage which you only fully realise after the damage has been done. The parallels of "gold will shine in the sun, nothing but metal in the darkness" and "sky or mud in between, rubble is our home unseen" this organic relation of precious metals that we cherish but bring us only fleeting joy, and sky and mud that we take for granted yet we return to the earth without vacuous material wealth. It is also possibly a reference to limbo, or that in between state that may be after death.
I'm not entirely sure of the symbolism this album is intended to portray, but to me, this is how it comes across, as a spiritual journey through various existential crises and questions, resulting in resolve in the welcoming arms of death, or at least acceptance of the most human experiences and emotions, dark but soft and entrancing, like a siren song, an album of love, loss and the self-perpetuating cycle of self-realisation and loss.
Review by Sadie Fox
Duke Garwood is on tour in February 2017, dates below;
Thursday 9th February - Bodega, Nottingham
Friday 10th February - King Tut's, Glasgow
Saturday 11th February - Headrow House, Leeds
Sunday 12th February - The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Tuesday 14th February - Komedia, Brighton
Wednesday 15th February - The Louisiana, Bristol
Thursday 16th February - Oslo, London