November 2006

The Duhks - Migrations
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4014
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

I often lament the demise of folk music as a sociopolitical force. For that reason, and due to Jesse Havey’s beautiful singing of it, my favorite tune on the Duhks’ new CD is "Who Will Take My Place." Written by Dan Frechette, it is about Sinn Fein revolutionary Michael Collins. The liner notes hedge, only calling Collins an "Irish patriot."

Excepting one-third of an instrumental medley, not till track seven do we hear a folk song from the oral tradition: "Moses, Don’t Get Lost." This is the kind of song adopted by the Civil Rights Movement before any of the Duhks was born. The disc’s other traditional song is "Turtle Dove," another African-American gospel tune from the Georgia Sea Islands. Such a nod to tradition carries none of the risks folk singers traditionally take in the life-and-death struggles of their times.

With consumerism destroying the biosphere, the Duhks decry individual corruption via Tracy Chapman’s "Mountain o’ Things," needlessly informing us in the liner notes that it "denounces the culture of consumerism," then quipping, "Thanks for buying this CD" -- just when is hyping the band’s latest T-shirt.

In addition to Havey’s superb singing throughout, the other vocals are solid, as are Tania Elizabeth’s fiddle, founder Leonard Podolak’s banjo, and Scott Senior’s percussion. Bluegrass virtuoso Tim O’Brien gets in some guest licks, and he co-produced the album. Production, mix, and sound are impeccable. However, I can’t help but wonder, as our rights melt with the polar ice, whether folk musicians shouldn’t consider shifting priorities just a wee bit toward the folk.