Speaking In Rebellious Tongues
A clapboard, whitewashed church in the dead of August hosts a sea of sweaty brows behind hand-held fans waving in rhythm to the stentorious bellow from the pulpit. The swelling pressure builds in pews that creak with anticipation. Zeus-like, the pastor hurls down proclamations of Apocalypse. He is the way, right your wrongs, rise from your seats and shout your "AMEN!" This is your power, this is your sanctuary, release to it, give in to the lust of the moment's sound and fury. Testify! Dance, rejoice- your Saviour has taken notice of you! Sawdust from the rafters as the room erupts in rapture- it is aglow with the spirit. Arms are raised, voices go hoarse and another week of poverty, oppression and injustice are steeled against. Sunday to Sunday, this moment will raise any chin facing all indignity.
Mixed with Appalachian bluegrass, the gospel according to Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Sam and Dave ignited the passion in Elvis' rubber hips, Jagger's devil lips and Chuck Berry's killer licks. The lustful rite of adolescence that would claim that spirit drowned what remained of the righteous call to redemption. Faith immaculately conceived Action. Expectation of paradise spawned its mockery of jubilant hedonism. This is the clay and iron foundation for the gorgeously leering idol of Rock and Roll.
Is all this preamble fitting of a CD review of Richmond's Duchess of York? By way of making a point- yes. Sometimes we forget what it is about Rock and Roll (and I don't mean indie, shoegaze, electroclash or whatever new buzzword flits about to invoke thinking man's pop) that still brings us to our feet. Duchess of York has its roots deep in the Delta, wrapped tight around the Rock of Ages and deep in the Mississippi Mud. The family was raised by a conscientious Pentecostal parents, and, like Rock and Roll itself, decided the now was more exciting than the promised future and set its sights on celebrating life, in all it's filthy lubricious glory.
This is the lesson inherent in Duchess of York's new release Era In Static. I could dwell on the York family's perfect hair, sharp dress and sell the soul to Ol' Scratch good looks but that would just be the jam on the bread. Yes, they command attention on stage- Jerry Lee Lewis would agree to the necessity of theatricality. They display showmanship beyond most national acts, but heart and soul is the calling card to this young band's imminent rise.
Fronted by the seventeen-year-old Michael and supported by his brother Austin, cousin Constantine and Jacob, who met the others in high school, Duchess of York is an answer to the masses of Richmond acts pulling from a shallower well. They drop sonic references to newer outfits like The White Stripes and The Strokes but seem to transcend the connection reaching back further to Robert Johnson and The Rolling Stones. Refreshing like a front porch glass of iced tea, the new EP is rife with unforgettable hooks, creative changes, Beatle-esque vocal melodies and a sticky thumping backbeat. Michael's guitar work is one A&R rep away from stardom and bewilders at the depth of emotion dripping from its steel strings.
In a city storied for its punk and metal gauntlets, Duchess of York adds the breastplate of righteousness in its anachronistic expression of gospel, blues and rock and roll. There's an authority in its unnaturally wise voice that reaches to the cheap seats better than most of the howling screams heard on your myriad Loud Rock records this year. Glowing review, yes. One need not wait to hear what they're going to do next in the face of this damn-near perfect release, but holy hell, I'd put money on a major label debut by 2009. Here's hoping they still take my calls then.