The Duhks will be performing at venues in the Northeast this summer.
By Colleen Taylor
When it comes to genre, everything is fair game for the Duhks. Irish, bluegrass, French Canadian, folk, blues, soul, rock, electro, Afro—you name it, they’ve tried it. This Canadian band has come to epitomize the neo-folk musical movement, rethinking roots music with each album they release and each note they play. Like a true modernized, globalized folk group, they define themselves as “poyethnic” and welcome all cultures and styles into their creative projects. After a two-year hiatus, the Duhks are back in business with their 2014 release “Beyond the Blue” and a tour that will bring them to the Northeast this July.
Formed in Winnepeg in 2001 by Leonard Podolak, the Duhks quickly made a name for themselves as a band capable of mastering the blend of old and new time. Most notably, the New York Times named them the band at the forefront of the neo-folk movement. The home base background of their sound is French Canadian with a bit of Irish, but they’ve accrued a number of band members and fans from all across the musical palate. Former members have had backgrounds in Celtic music, Swedish, Quebec music, and even gospel. What makes the band stand out is its ability to mesh all these various influences in a way that sounds unrehearsed and organic.
“Beyond the Blue,” released under Compass records, is a reintroduction to the Duhks and to their unique musical approach of genre collage. The band presents the album as a re-launch of everything they’ve done over the years, a summation of all their styles (always rooted in a folk base). “Beyond the Blue” sounds like the work of a band that’s comfortable in their sound—however unique and avant-garde that sound may be. What’s more, the record has, in addition to the Duhks’ typical polyethnic, neo-folk trademark, a new age kind of sound. The title track in particular is an example of this—the band goes in an ethereal direction with the opener. Yet, some of the songs on this album aren’t as experimental as the band’s self-description might lead one to believe. “Suffer No Fools,” for example, is simply a beautiful folk song. For me, “Je pense a toi” is the most interesting track on the album: it seems to belong to several cultures and several eras at once. It’s a French song with an Asian musical flavor, and rather unlike anything I’ve heard in the folk crossover musical world. All in all, this album manifests the Duhks’ ability to vacillate between good, standard folk music and cultural carnival.
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To accompany their new album release, the band is touring the United States throughout the summer. The timing of the tour is ideal: “Beyond the Blue” is the kind of music that is meant to be played out in the open air. The band will be in Ridgefield, CT on July 7 as part of the town’s free outdoor park concert series. July 8 they’ll be at Boston’s The Burren Pub as part of the “Burren Backroom” concert series of traditional music. July 30 will see them at the famed Towne Crier Café in Beacon, N.Y. And finally, they’ll be playing at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, NY this year.
Whatever your musical taste, one can’t help but admire this band’s open arms when it comes to cultural influence and style crossover. With other bands, I often say, “they’re not afraid to try something new.” The Duhks, however, are not only unafraid of playing something new, they’re hungry for it.
Check them out and catch them live this summer at: duhks.com
Colleen Taylor’s “Music Notes” column appears every week in the Irish Echo.