By Christopher Nosnibor
It’s hard not to admire Duke Garwood. His solo output may only equate to a small catalogue, but the list of people he’s worked with and for is impressive. Moreover, while the fact he played on The Orb’s Perpetual Dawn makes for an interesting footnote, his involvement with New Dream Machine Project, which revisited the recording of the Master Musicians of Jajouka and recreated Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine is the very definition of cool. Ok, given my obsession with all things Burroughs, Gysin and cut-up, I’m easily swayed, but importantly, it gives an indication of Garwood’s eclecticism and interests.
His four solo albums to date have earned him a reputation for being a musician’s musician who plays and sings with soul. Following on from his 2013 album recorded with Mark Lanegan (who has cited Garwood as an all-time favourite artist) Black Pudding, Heavy Love continues down the dark, sparse country road and draws on bleak blues type narratives to conjure an atmosphere that brings the listener in close.
As the title suggests, this isn’t a lightweight album, but an album that has a weight, a heft and serious gravitas. But Garwood also has a lightness of touch that imbues this collection of sparsely arranged songs with a tangible humanity and warmth.
I suspect that Mark Lanegan is such a fan of Garwood because he can hear himself in Garwood’s songs, especially in his voice: it’s relatable, on many levels. Not that Duke Garwood is any kind of Mark Lanegan Clone. However, like Lanegan, Garwood possesses one of those voices that’s like a well-worn and seasoned piece of wooden furniture, with a heavy patina and marks, dents and stains that each tell a story from a life well lived. There’s depth that goes far below the surface, and as much is conveyed by what isn’t said, and by what’s absent from the songs, as what is included. The arrangements couldn’t be much more stripped back: for the most part, nothing but a gently picked guitar provides the accompaniment to his reflections, meditations and narratives, all of which are rich in their humanity. Like a deep millpond, it’s all beneath the surface, and there’s unseen danger, turbulence in a life lived: you move on, survive, but the scars remain.
The delivery is so intimate that you feel like you’re in a small cabin, somewhere remote, or in a small venue with an open fire sitting but feet away from a genuine troubadour singing his life and singing it just for you. This, of course, is what real country music is about, and here Garwood proves he’s a true master.
Heavy Love is released by PIAS America