Audio Mixers: Alain Johannes; Mark Lanegan.
Recording information: Alpine Lodge, London; Golden Hum, London; One Cat, London; Pink Duck, LA.
Heavy Love is Duke Garwood's fifth full-length solo album. It is a natural follow-up to Black Pudding, the collaborative album he cut with Mark Lanegan in 2012. Recorded in London and Los Angeles, Garwood self-produced the set and enlisted Lanegan and Alain Johannes from Queens of the Stone Age to mix it. Garwood plays many of the instruments himself, but gets selective assistance from friends along the way, including Johannes on various keys, backing vocalists Jehnny Beth and Johnny Hostile of Savages, and longtime friend, collaborator, and drummer Paul May. Garwood's guitar is the album's most recognizable feature, but his singing voice is its most natural companion. The songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist has always utilized a minimalist approach to the blues and the same holds true here. His songs, however, go deeper and wider. They readily delve into a similar sense of spiritual ambivalence and eros-charged desire that kindred spirits such as Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Chris Whitley, and Lanegan do. This is the soundtrack to a drifter's way of life. Album-opener "Some Times" uses a three-note blues vamp that roils and coils like John Lee Hooker in slow motion. A droning organ, loosely tuned snare, and kick drum add the cavernous bottom. The dynamics increase slightly as his voice rises in pitch, but its suffocating darkness is pervasive. On the title track, Garwood relates a smoldering, sensual pathos in his words and playing. Almost certainly influenced by the time he spent with Tinariwen, his stripped-down modal approach feels natural nonetheless. "Disco Lights" is a trippy blues ballad whose effects come straight out of Jimi Hendrix. But Garwood's lost, wanton lyrics, his soulfully wrought vocals, and spectacularly expressive yet economic playing display his own signature. "Sweet Wine" melds the implication of gospel to Western desert blues and Americana. His singing gets deep and is as emotionally moving as his playing. "Snake Man" is Garwood's own hybridized take on Hooker and Slim Harpo. It's swampy and spooky. His muted trumpet and harmonica playing imbue it with sinister purpose. The windblown "Summertime in Hell," the wispy, eros-drenched "Honey in My Ear," and haunting, harmonium, Mellotron, and acoustic guitar ballad "Roses" reveal how essential Garwood's lyrics, melodies, and production aesthetics are to his playing. The smoldering, slow sonic ambience in closer "Hawaiian Death Ballad" draws a line from Son House through to the 21st century blues and extends past the horizon. As a whole, the songs on Heavy Love seem to emerge from the soul's longest, loneliest night to meet the raw, bleary edges of a new dawn that makes no promises. In sum, Heavy Love is all of a piece: slow, slippery, jungly. It is easily the most confident, fully realized album in his catalog to date, and his most poetic to boot. ~ Thom Jurek