The Duhks: Fast Paced World

Ross Langager

Winnipeg neo-folkies mesh traditions together into an elusive mosaic that appears more forward-looking than it actually is.

The Duhks

Fast Paced World

Label: Sugar Hill
US Release Date: 2008-08-19
UK Release Date: 2008-08-18

I recall this one time when I was on a road trip with a friend and I decided to slide the Band's Greatest Hits into the CD player. After some distance was covered and a handful of tracks had played, he asked me, "What is this, some kind of Newfie music?" Now, the specific valences of the term "Newfie" may well be lost on non-Canadian readers, so forgive a brief elaboration. "Newfie" is derogatory slang for a person from the province of Newfoundland, a rocky, forbidding island north of Nova Scotia with strong Celtic roots. The province fell on hard socioeconomic times when the cod disappeared from the Grand Banks, forcing "Newfies" to spread across Canada in search of jobs. As a result, they have inflamed the latent ethnocentrism dormant in polite Canucks, many of whom slot Newfies into the same unenviable cultural position that the Irish occupied in the British Empire. In short, "Newfie" is not something you want to be. And if even a venerable rock institution like the Band can be tarred with the Newfie brush for daring to use fiddle in "Acadian Driftwood", then the prejudice is firmly ensconced.

Maybe it's a cognitive stretch, but it seems to me that folk music can meet with a similar prejudice. Knee-jerk reactions to the genre tend to be unkind: it's middlebrow, it's self-serious, it's regressive, it's dull, it has no new ideas, etc. Seemingly afraid of the pitfalls of pigeonholing, neo-folkies either retreat from traditional trappings or mesh traditions together into an elusive mosaic that can appear more forward-looking than it actually is. The latter is the approach favored by Winnipeg's the Duhks (pronounced "ducks"), and its general success in their specific application doesn't quite erase its peculiar dissonance.

On their third Sugar Hill release, the Grammy-nominated group confidently offers up their witches' brew of zydeco rhythm, Appalachian banjo-picking, Celtic fiddle flourishes, and newly-minted lead singer Sarah Dugas's soul-queen vocals for consumption. And there's no question that it's often thirst-quenching. The opening two-punch combo of "Mighty Storm" and the title track dissolves dashes of rootsy character into rock heaviness (the opposite effect to their live cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", which met with the approval and even participation of John Paul Jones). "This Fall" is a smoothly jerking Slavic-circus waltz, and "You Don't See It" betrays lurking melodic-pop sensibilities. Virtuosity is never in question on the instrumentals, and Dugas is a convincing enough white-girl Aretha-proxy to push her way through the folksy tapestry with muscular aplomb.

All this is certainly enough for a solid recommendation. But there's a high wall yet between this band and brilliance. Maybe it's the polished sheen provided by producer Jay Joyce, which further undercuts distinctive elements already diluted by furious intermixing. Maybe it's those moments when Dugas' performance fails to distinguish itself from the long tradition of soul singing. Maybe it's the occasional dodginess of the lyrics. Or maybe, ultimately, the Duhks contort themselves and their chosen vernacular so drastically in order to evade snide "Newfie music" labeling that the simple eloquence they strive for is lost in the perspiration. The strain shows on Fast Paced World, and for all its modest successes, one can't shake the feeling that this should seem a little more effortless than it does.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.