A Musical Barbaric Yawp
Duke Garwood is a name that without knowing the musician, might evoke numerous images. The name Garwood alone sounds as if it could be the guttural, barbaric yawp of a primeval hunter rather than the name of a musician in the era of social networking and the Kardashians. Duke Garwood may exist within the latter age, but thankfully his music is not typical of this age. Rather, the sounds he has created for his latest album Heavy Love reveal a musician in touch with a timeless mysticism via what could be termed the psychedelic tradition. He has, if you will, channeled the barbaric yawps of our imaginations into swampy, bluesy meditations that feel like life vibrations.
Garwood has been toiling on the edges of the musical industry working with, most notably, Mark Lanegan, as well as the Master Musicians of Jajouka made famous by the ethnomusicological efforts of the late Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones. Certainly the company Garwood keeps belies the aesthetic he is going for. His music is by turns bluesy and ethereal, atmospheric and a little foreboding. The English countryside and desert surroundings play roles in his musical progression, and you can hear it.
Each track on his fifth record drips with Garwood’s deep vocals, lending the music a pensive melancholy. Garwood’s voice is also reminiscent of two musical figures that emerged in the 60s, Robbie Robertson of The Band, and the much lesser known, but extraordinary and extraordinarily talented Skip Spence of Moby Grape. You can hear echoes of Skip Spence on the track “Honey in the Ear,” a song that seems inspired by Spence’s seminal album Oar which he created after his descent into LSD-triggered psychosis. Garwood has channeled some of that energy into a track that plays at a pace that feels like honey slowly pouring into one’s ear. Lines like “Moss grows where once you tread” are set to funereal guitar strums and a background drone of strings.
Likewise, “Snake Man” could easily be mistaken for a Robbie Robertson track based on his voice alone. Garwood’s voice has the same pitch and depth as Robertson’s. Yet, it is used to great effect to sensually sing lines like, “Snake honey from your tongue make me strong” over drums, rattles, and acoustic blues riffs inspired by the guitar work of Leo Kottke. The track ultimately gives way to a harmonica and a slow and steady distancing of the voice from the ears of the listener, like you’re listening to someone vanishing into the depths of a mine.
Garwood recorded Heavy Love in the California desert with Lanegan, as well as Alain Johannes, producer for Queens of the Stine Age. You can hear the mystique of the desert in each track, which makes for a unique experience all around. This is not music to exercise to and it’s not music to study to or to drive to. This is music to which one meditates, or contemplates the mysteries of life. It rumbles from the mind and voice of Duke Garwood, the barbaric yawp of a musician triumphant in his firm hold on the creative fringes.