Neutering Rock with the Vaselines and the Dutchess and the Duke 

The two co-ed bands each work a similar landscape.

Just over a year ago, an 1860 recording of the Debussy composition "Clair de Lune" was unearthed in France. The brief ten-second section sung by an unknown woman, which predates the earliest of Edison's recordings by almost twenty years, reminds us of the decidedly pleasurable sound of a woman's voice being set down to tape for an audience to later consume — or, in this case, discover.

In the post-everything world, it would be foolish to comment upon the merits of one sex's vocal ability over the other. (To hear Gram Parson's reprisal of "Do Right Woman," replete with identical lyrics to that of the Aretha Franklin version, does, however, call into question some gender issues.) But groups imbued with the most confidence and, arguably, the most talent can move beyond this morass of pronouns and simply come up with a few memorable verses. That, though, isn't the only connection between Scotland's the Vaselines and Seattle's the Dutchess and the Duke, who play together at Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco this week.

In addition to mining gendered dichotomies, each group seeks to incorporate a modicum of similar influences. Even as so much of music's lyrical content is consumed by ruminations on love and loss, between these two particular bands, the topic gets a slight reworking. That said, neither duo drastically redefines the way in which songs are structured, but tries to lend a new perspective or hook to the proceedings. Sonically, the bands don't share too many similarities, but the basis of some mythologized folk music serves as the underpinnings of both bands.

At times, the Vaselines become a bit too irreverent even for the most ardent fan to look past Rory! Ride me slowly/Ride me raw, raw, raw, being an example of a ridiculous yet effective lyric amidst a jangly pop offering. But a few occasions find the genuine emotional content able to bolster the simplistic music and words loosened from each track. "Slushy," on which both Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly sing, puts forth a simple sketch of two women who, presumably, the songwriter didn't have the gall to approach. Again, content-wise it's not all that dramatic. But hearing McKee sing a few passionate couplets about the subject of Kelly's gaze not only significantly broadens the track's appeal musically, but connects the two singers in some genderless, albeit lovelorn state.

Much the same can be said for the Seattleites' "I Am Just a Ghost" from its 2008 disc She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke. The song, which could be construed as more artfully crafted than anything from the Vaselines' catalog, tells a nondescript lover I ain't got no heart to love/I ain't got no hand to hold/And it's enough to drive you crazy. The gender-neutral subject of the song allows both Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison to vocalize how this unrequited emotional situation is actually going to be played out. It doesn't look too good. Working in a more folksy tradition, the Dutchess and the Duke examine as much interpersonal fare as any other group. But while the Vaselines run traditional song-craft through a screen of serpentine feedback, the Seattleites prefer a more toned-down, contemplative approach.

"I was listening to a lot of Stones when I wrote that album," Lortz admits after being asked why so many critics attempted to connect the music of the Dutchess and the Duke with that of the Brits' catalog, "so it makes sense." Referring to the Stones' sound during the period of 1967 to 1968, he added: "That was their experimental period, where their songs were a little more introspective and human."

The comparison, spurious or not, can't manage to simplify the work that Lortz and Morrison have created thus far. Lortz explains, however, that the band's forthcoming disc, which was recorded in Oakland with the Gris Gris' Greg Ashley, it "a very different record than the first." With this album due out by the fall, it'll be a chance for the Northwest duo to extricate themselves from the pervasive ties to rock 'n' roll's past.

The 150-year history of recording won't be recast when the Dutchess and the Duke open for the Vaselines at Bimbo's. But the two uniquely inclined groups will have the chance to not only remind audiences of past triumphs, but the way in which a band can unknowingly affect the individual — or even the greater culture.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Music

Author Archives

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation