One advantage of just having started this music blog is that I have a pretty wide base of material to write about- rather than be limited by new releases, I can write about music released a few years ago with some additional perspective that reviewers at the time didn’t have.  In that vein, I thought it would be interesting to take a historical look back at the progression of a single artist through their various albums and stages of development.

When I first thought of this concept, it was with a particular artist in mind – Cuff The Duke.  CTD released their first album way back in 2002, and their relentless energy for touring small-town Ontario meant that I had the opportunity to see them multiple times while at school in Kingston, Ontario.  More often than not, these encounters occurred at the Grad Club.  A veritable institution at Queen’s, the Grad Club’s awkward stage setup (situated in the crux of an ‘L’ shaped room) was both a blessing and a curse – it severely limited the capacity of the venue, but created a friendly, intimate vibe for anyone lucky enough to attend a show there.  Cuff The Duke brought this intimacy to a whole new level – at times it felt like you were just hanging out with your buddy Wayne Petti in your living room, while other times the dynamo, oblivious to his own safety, would climb aboard a chair vigorously fist-pumping,  making you wonder how such a small person could generate such tremendous intensity and presence.  It was these early performances which endeared the band to me, and since then, they have continued to create great music, both on-stage and off.

Life Stories For Minimum Wage (2002)

Cuff The Duke’s first album is an accurate reflection of the band in its early days.  It plays almost like a live recording, capturing with high-fidelity the country twang, raw grittiness, and excitement present in their live shows.  The album is full of energetic and fun sing-a-longs – I still find it impossible to resist belting out the words to ‘Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker’ at the song’s apex (“It’ll be alright, It’ll be okay!”).  ‘Anti-Social’ is a characteristic song from this album, filled with wailing guitars, echoing drums, and a sense of urgency that builds and builds throughout the entire song.

[mp3] Cuff The DukeAnti-Social

Cuff The Duke (2005)

The sophomore, self-titled album represents a more refined and polished sound.  A bit of the rawness and grittiness of ‘Life Stories For Minimum Wage’ is gone, replaced with more of a fun-loving, feel-good, stomp your feet vibe.  Interestingly enough, ‘Anti-Social’ makes a repeat performance, albeit in a substantially more refined form, making it clear just how different this album feels from their first.  Tracks like ‘Belgium or Peru’ capture this transition well – it’s a playful, fun song that still manages to capture the excitement and intensity of the band.

[mp3] Cuff The DukeBelgium or Peru

Sidelines of the City (2007)

As a disclaimer, I never really got into this album as much as the previous two.  Part of it was geographical – my recent departure from Kingston meant that I was mentally and physically distanced from the intimate settings of the Grad Club, and similarly, this album feels quite distanced from those early shows as well.  It feels much darker and less fun-loving, and even experimental in places (well, as experimental as alt-country can get).  That being said, it still has some enjoyable songs, like the bluesy and crunchy, ‘If I Live or If I Die’, which brings to mind images of smoke-filled roadside bars.  Also, it has handclaps – I’m a sucker for handclaps.

[mp3] Cuff The DukeIf I Live or If I Die

Way Down Here (2009)
(entire album streamable here)

Cuff The Duke’s latest album sounds considerably more mature and mellow.  Gone are the rousing sing-a-longs of previous albums (this is the first album to not have a titled “Ballad” as a song), and in its place is a softer sound, at times sounding Tom Petty-ish.  Elements of their previous sound are still present, with tracks like ‘Promises’ blending mellow lyrics with guitar riffs and deep drums.  But much of the album is like the opening track ‘You Were Right’ which, while stylistically distanced from those nights in 2003, still manages to retain the intimacy that made those early performances memorable.

[mp3] Cuff The DukeYou Were Right