Duke Special – Songs From The Deep Forest (2006)

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Produced by Dave Lynch and Paul Pilot
Label – V2

Duke Special came out of nowhere with nothing but odd visual preconceptions. After all, hardly anyone had heard of him outside his hometown, Lisburn, Northern Ireland. When he appeared on the “Later With Jools” show, his beguiling and exquisite performance not only put the audience in raptures, but created the necessary intrigued fervour for more of his gentle vaudeville pop. The interesting sight of a man caressing a bashed up old up right piano, his dreadlocks almost resting on the keys as his concentration brought his face closer to the dulled ivories, and his backing band encouraging the performance with harmonious glee. In many ways Duke Special (real name Peter Wilson) is a one off, a parallel universe performer, writing music that seems strangely out of step with the image conscious world of vapid pop. If one could find a similarity then just imagine a centre ground between Badly Drawn Boys’ simplistic folk and Rufus Wainwright’s avant-garde personal theatrics.

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“Songs From The Deep Forest” sweetly shines through Special’s sweet Gaelic burr, the added orchestration highlighting his vocal distinctly on “Wake Up Scarlett”, as he admits to a sense of selfishly taking without giving (“Did I steal your sense of wonder, innocence and sight? I’m strung up like a highwayman who didn’t get it right”. The single, “Last Night I Nearly Died” is lyrically less confident, but musically still as assured. “Portrait” almost feels like a song of self analysis, as Special admits his inner meekness with “clumsy as a ragtime clown, or some dancing Frankenstein”, as he bangs away at at the keys. One senses that he yearns for a more romantic, yet bygone era on “Freewheel” and “No Cover Up”, both laden with musical references to the times before traditional popular music. It’s all deliciously sentimental, honestly observed, and although there isn’t anything here that will ensure survival in the competitive charts, there’s still enough quality song writing and lavish performance to warrant a long career.

“Songs From The Deep Forest” contains moments that float and shimmer with a spectacular timelessness; a quality only the best pop music can boast.

8/10

Track Listing

Wake Up Scarlett (Duke Special)
Everybody Wants a Little Something (Duke Special)
Brixton Leaves (Duke Special & Ben Hales)
Freewheel (Duke Special)
No Cover Up (Duke Special)
Portrait (Duke Special)
Last Night I Nearly Died (But I Woke Up Just in Time) (Duke Special)
Ballad of a Broken Man (Duke Special)
Salvation Tambourine (Duke Special)
Something Might Happen (Duke Special)
Slip of a Girl (Paul Pilot)
This Could Be My Last Day (Duke Special)

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