They've been hailed as innovators, blending folk, punk and world music for an ethnic stew with ingredients from around the globe. But the lead song "Mighty Storm," on The Duhks latest release, Fast Paced World, has some wondering if the band possesses prophetic powers as well. The song recounts the deadliest hurricane in American history making landfall in Galveston in 1900. In the wake of the devastation hurricane Ike recently left on that same city, the lyrics are chilling -- "The trumpets gave them warning/ you'd better leave this place/ but no one thought of leaving/ till death stared them in the face."
Duhks fiddler Tania Elizabeth says although the band didn't think the song would end up being as prophetic as it turned out to be when they recorded it in 2007, they are using the song's popularity to steer people toward making donations to the Red Cross or helping Ike victims. "We're encouraging people that have heard it on the radio to go to their Web site, www.redcross.org,"
Elizabeth says. "We've got a blog about it [on the www.duhks.com site], encouraging people if they're inspired to go and help in any they can."
Activism has been a part of the band's agenda since its inception five years ago. "We're just trying to change the way we do what we do," Elizabeth says, "whether it's filling up with biodiesel or buying organic food and requesting organic food on our rider; recycling using reusable water bottles or the fact that we packaged our albums with recyclable paper and soy-based ink; or the T-shirts that we sell that are all sweatshop-free and some are organic."
The band endorses eco-consciousness, including the sale of BoGo lights (the initials stand for Buy One, Give One) flashlights rechargeable by solar power. The Web site www.bogolight.com lists ongoing projects, and you can direct the path of your donated flashlight to multiple locations all over the world. "We don't make any money off of them, but we sell the lights in our stores to encourage people," Elizabeth says. "Every little bit makes a difference."
When they're not busy saving the world, the band gets down with a heavy-bottomed worldbeat sound that's more intense than on previous outings. The addition of two new band members -- soul-inspired vocalist Sarah Dugas, who replaces former lead singer Jessee Havey, and replacing former percussionist Scott Senior with Dugas' drummer brother Christian, who works with a drum kit -- have given The Duhks a bigger sonic footprint. They had some electronic help as well from new producer Jay Joyce, who beefed up their bass-less sound buy using a polyphonic octave generator to enhance Jordan McConnell's guitar work giving him a thicker, chunkier sound.
The result sounds like something from the Staples Singers' catalogue on the title cut, with Dugas chuffing along like Mavis in her sexy gospel mode. On "Mighty Storm," McConnell chimes along like Pops Staples, enhancing Dugas' Mavis channeling.
But The Duhks aren't content to stay with any one genre. "Sleepin' Is All I Want To Do" sounds like Billie Holiday frontin' the Hot Club of France. "New Rigged Ship" is an old time string band medley, and the band recreates the fast-paced Brazilian samba sound of Sergio Mendes '88 hit "Magalenha."
Some claim to hear some punk going on as well, but it's well-disguised. "Jordan [guitarist McConnell] grew up listing to punk music and he incorporates it in," Elizabeth says, "but it's a fine blend of punk and traditional Irish music, so it's pretty indistinguishable unless you know exactly what to look for. If we're rehearsing or doing the sound check you hear all sorts of different riffs by the boys fooling around, metal riffs, things that I knew nothing about before I joined this band."
Growing up in Canada, Elizabeth's background included classical but also encompassed a variety of Canadian fiddle styles as well as Celtic music and jazz. Despite her exposure to a variety of genres, Elizabeth is hesitant to single out one in particular. "I really like it when people transcend their instruments to where you really feel like you're getting a real glimpse into someone's personality through their music," the fiddler says. "I just like people who do their job well. I appreciate that a lot."
The Duhks play the Neighborhood Theatre on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. The Hackensaw Boys open.