Baby, You're A Star!

new artists to notice

The Duke & The King

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New Artist Week continues with the third of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.

The Duke & The King

The Duke & The King is so unabashedly and sincerely 60s/70s rooted that they’ll send you scrambling to throw on your It’s A Beautiful Day and early Joni Mitchell records. Actually, this Upstate New York Catskill Mountains-based aggregate possesses a disarming swerve that suggests a kinder, gentler Sly & The Family Stone if they’d moved out of S.F. and forged their sound in Topanga Canyon instead with say Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan and Graham Nash sitting in. Co-founders Simone Felice (ex-Felice Brothers) and Robert Bird Burke are joined by exceedingly charming songbird Simi Stone and Nowell” Reverend Loveday” Haskin on their self-titled sophomore album (released August 16 on So Recordings), which hums with the kind of bittersweet vibe Creedence Clearwater Revival and Crosby, Stills and Nash brought to life during wartime, mixing up dark-edged-but-earnest love songs, paeans to nature and fame, and sly soldier’s laments (“Baghdad, she’s a mean old town/ I get the feeling she don’t want me around no more/ And I started seeing things in my bunk at night”). Everything is done so gracefully and gently that it’s easy to miss how good this is from the bones on up, lovely voices dancing like birds in the air, singing romantically but also warning us, “Love is a coke dealer’s daughter/ Love is a ship lost at sea/ Love is a wheel made of sawdust” as we board the Devil’s Ferris wheel to watch all his pretty ones dancing in the fire.

New Album

While their debut release, the mostly Felice/Burke affair Nothing Gold Can Stay (2009), felt a little half-formed, this second time at bat is all line drives and bleacher smackers, a thing intrinsically American at a time when it’s getting harder to find intrinsically American things to be pleased and proud about. Contemporaries These United States and Jonathan Wilson are working similar veins but the estrogen injection Simi Stone (not to mention her ace violin accents) brings and the way The Duke & The King trade around lead vocals gives them an even stronger line back to the golden days of pastoral pop-rock. What these youngsters bring that’s expressly modern is a black wit and healthy cynicism that neatly dispels any retro hackery. Teetering on high heels and shaking that country ass, The Duke & The King remind us in mood and attitude that “just as long as we’ve got rock ‘n’ roll everything will be alright.” They seem so certain of this notion that one feels compelled to go with their flow, all the better for believing in healing when so many in the world spend their energies on destruction and dissembling.