Today’s the day. Sunset/Sunrise is out in the open. I already loved what I’d heard in the first song from the record, Hands - the simplicity, the feeling of being down in Laredo in the 1970′s, the rusty organ whirl, the strong, bare electric guitar. So when I got The Dutchess and The Duke’s new sophomore album, Sunset/Sunrise, neatly packaged the way Hardly Art always does so well, I immediately went into discovery mode, pulling apart the pieces of the CD cover, leafing through the 12 page booklet, running my fingers over the stark images, going back and forth to see what subtle surprises came to light depending on where the hole in the middle of the page rests…even the booklet represents the tone of the album – bleak with grays and subdued yet emerging sunlight. Fall is the time for this record, a turn of seasons, and for me it was perfect timing to receive a new gem from the beloved Seattle duo, The Dutchess and The Duke. I can’t remember exactly why (I suppose listening to the record successfully effected catharsis), but I popped that dark little sucker in my CD player and drove, singing along poorly, humming along when there were no words to grasp, all the while flowing tears of relief. I remember watching sad movies as a youngster – the kind where dogs die, like Where the Red Fern Grows – in order to flush out a good cry. But I hadn’t had this experience in quite some time. Rather than startling, I just went with it, and it was the right thing to do. I have to assume this is exactly what The Dutchess and The Duke intend from Sunset/Sunrise, especially with song titles like Living This Life Makes It Hard, Let It Die, Never Had A Chance and I Don’t Feel Anything. Even as rough instrumentation enlivens Sunset/Sunrise, The Dutchess and The Duke, exposed and unpretentious, starkly approach the subject matter of intimate inner realms – feeling distant from your lover when all apparent signs should point to everything being okay, or cutting loose from a habit of darkness in favor of embracing life. Nothing is hidden.
Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison, who grew up together and continue to do so digging to their depths in joint musical exploration, weave potent imagery with independently compelling voices that work together like vines intertwined. Each vocal – his shiningly clear and hers a smokey alto – is necessary to the other for the full effect.
It’s poignantly vulnerable lines delivered, like this one from Living This Life: “If I walked in your black boots, if I walked in your black dress, would you hold me tight or just beat me for wearing your clothes?” that wrench my gut and make me listen in earnest with love for The Dutchess and The Duke.
Lortz, the duo’s director, leads all but 2 tracks vocally. Sunrise/Sunset flips the usual equation – Morrison flies nicely with the lead vocal and Lortz growls in low background support until their voices join in harmonic chorus.
The production is effective. All recorded in the studio with Greg Ashley (Gris Gris), a huge drum thumps loud and echoey in just the right places, violins arise well when it’s time and never linger obnoxiously and nothing extra inserts itself, save for a curious and barely noticable siren in the introduction of Living This Life. I wonder if this was an auspicious accident or a moment of delicate production flair. Regardless, the nuance only makes this near-perfect album all the more endearing.
Sunset/Sunrise finishes awesomely with an ending that speaks of new beginnings. The River shines, a clever and graphic-at-times yet palatable parable of rebirth with the spirit of hymnlike awakening. The song, the album, couldn’t come to a better close: the duo’s voices climax, then one jangly piano note rings out in sustain.