"Peppers and Jelly" Review by Bob Makin
Courier News, New Jersey
Dec 11th, 2003
Duende's self-titled debut was one of the best Jersey indies in 2001. The followup, a live offering called "Pepper & Jelly" after one of the acoustic duo's more energetic songs, is even better because it has more energy.
When they play live, Maria Woodford and Alex Radus seem like they've been performing together much longer than three years. The intricate nuances of their blend of guitars and voices are so beautiful, they'll make you cry, especially on Woodford's lovely ``Perfect Stranger.''
They'll also make you laugh, particularly on the title track of this live effort, a tune inspired by the hardships of the road that was featured on the first disc. But this time it's made into a talking blues with Radus sharing
funny horror stories about the challenges of touring, such as having to sleep with one eye open in the Texas desert, with coyotes and rattlesnakes lurking nearby.
There's only a couple of tracks from the debut, Woodford's energetic "Overboard" and bittersweet "Indian Summer." The rest is new or unreleased.
One of the enjoyable older, unreleased tunes is "The BBC," an old-style protest song that makes fun of the corrupt power structure while enlightening the listener with humor about horrific realities, much like early Bob Dylan and
Phil Ochs. Yet, Duende adds its own sense of acoustic pop to those traditions with a finely crafted, hook-ladened melody.
The disc also includes ``West Virginia,'' the duo's first collaboration inspired by the traditional music workshop where they met and the roots music that has inspired them ever since. A mix of Hazel Dickens-like yodeling and acoustic rock in the spirit of Ani DiFranco, this epic tune, which clocks in at a finger-numbing 10 minutes, is amazing, especially considering it's the first Duende composition. I thought there was an amazing amount of growth for this act over three years, but this tune proves that they came into the project incredibly talented.
The best thing about "Peppers and Jelly" is that Duende clearly demonstrates that acoustic music can rock, such as on Radus' bluesy ``Reflections.'' This is not a folk act. It's not even a folk-rock act. It's an acoustic roots act that plays a delicious mix of folk, old-time Appalachian, Celtic music, Hot Club-inspired swing and best of all, blues. Duende's brand of energetic blues includes beautifully bended notes and guitar runs as righteous as the mighty Mississippi.
The other great thing about the duo is the adorable sibling-like relationship between Woodford and Radus. During a blistering guitar solo on a misty tune called "Starry Eyes," Radus briefly quotes "Maria" from "West Side Story" in her honor and, beforehand, tells a sweet story about how a bad bee sting kept him from playing guitar the night before so his partner carried him. "You rock," he tells her.
Duende rocks! Check it out www.duendeonline.com.
Duende, Maria Woodford and Alex Radus met in Elkins, West Virginia four years ago as students of Augusta Heritage, a center for the preservation of American roots music. Falling in love with all styles of traditional American music and unable to settle on a genre, Duende coined the term Fusion Folk to describe their acoustic based music which blends elements of folk (both mountain and urban), blues, bluegrass, country and swing. July of 2004 will mark five years for the duo who will celebrate by returning to Augusta as intstructors.
Alex Radus has been playing guitar for 15 years. He has with acclaimed jazz guitarists Walt Bibinger and Geary Moore, and also from the best in fingerstyle: Pat Donahue, Mary Flower and Eddie Pennington. He currently studies with Broadway vocal coach Deborah Maher. Alex is a published poet and has appeared in a wide array of stage and television productions. In the past six years Alex has been involved with 16 studio productions.
Maria Woodford is an ear-trained musician who has been writing, playing guitar, mandolin and performing for over 15 years. Maria has studied under critically acclaimed vocalists Gaye Adegbalola (Alligator Records) and Ginny Hawker (Rounder Records), and has casually recorded with sonogwriting legend Peter Rowan (Rowantone Records).
As a duo, Maria and Alex have brought their music from coast to coast. The have traveled 80,000 highway miles, played countless venues and performed on 16 full length studio releases...in just 4.5 years.
duende (doo-EN-day) noun
1. Demon; goblin.
2. Inspiration; fire; spirit; magic; charm; magnetism.
[From Spanish dialectal duende (charm), from Spanish (ghost).]
"A key part of the myth of authenticity is duende, the spirit that
inhabits the soloist at the climax of a performance."
Louise Levene; It's Good to Sing; Independent (London, UK); Feb 4, 1997.
"'If I don't get up here and paint, if I don't get up here and work on
some kind of sculpture, I don't feel that I'm living. The duende says,
'Come on: Do it! Do it! Do it!'"
Dan Sperling; Ever-driven Anthony Quinn; USA Today; Aug 5, 1987.