I recommend beginning to listen to the first video while reading. The images aren't important and there are no lyrics for a couple minutes.
To pull the goalie? To usurp the throne? I'm sure one could also come up with some more sordid theories as to the meaning of the name 'Cuff the Duke,' but what it means to me is consistently impressive, underrated music.
Their folky sound is often categorized as 'indie rock' or 'alt-country' but I deem it too rural for rock and too good for country. They have released three great albums, earning the respect of their influences such as Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor. After touring as Hayden's backing band last fall, they spent the first part of the winter recording 14 new songs on Keelor's farm. They played a few of these songs live for the first time last Thursday during an unadvertised show at The Dakota Tavern. First impressions tell me that the new album will be a welcomed addition to their quality catalogue and the intimate setting was an ideal way to debut them. Keelor was even there to provide backing vocals on one song.
With only two original members remaining, it's hard not to give most of the band's credit to singer/ songwriter Wayne Petti. His 2007 solo album 'City Lights Align' plays just as well as the Duke records, though it lacks the full, layered sound that comes with the variety of instruments the band incorporates. It still baffles me that jokes like Nickleback experience international fame while truly great Canadian songwriters remain in near obscurity and work part time jobs.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed last Thursday's set list, old and new songs alike, two of my favourite songs I was confident would be played were neglected. 'Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker' and 'Confessions from a Parkdale Basement' from the first and third albums respectively, are extremely complimentary in their reversed structures. Whereas 'Construction Worker' begins with a long instrumental introduction, 'Parkdale Basement' begins with a steady stream of lyrics before Petti is joined by the rest of the band for the instrumental finish. Both of these songs are built from two clearly distinct halves (the change occurs at almost exactly the halfway point in each track), and do away with the traditional 'verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus' format by replacing it with something much fresher.
Here is a fan video of 'Ballad of a Lonely Construction' so you can hear what I'm talking about.
The album version of 'Confessions from a Parkdale Basement' was not on youtube, so I posted this. At first I was just going to use a few pics of the band as the image, but I got a little carried away. You'll notice a picture of the aforementioned Dakota Tavern, which is in fact a basement on the outskirts of Parkdale, and the cover of 'Sidelines of the City' the album on which the song is featured.
The new album won't be out until summer, but another chance to hear some of their new songs before then will be March 14 at Lee's Palace.
While they're not great at updating their websites (it was sheer luck that I heard about the Dakota show), you can find out more about the band at their myspace and official website.
Also worth checking out is Wayne Petti's myspace. The Wiki article on the band which gives a good breakdown of the various members to pass through the group.
Rich Aucoin has provided occasional accompaniment to the band, his Brother Paul has produced their last two records. Rich is also an old friend of your best friends' best friend (confused yet?), and a very talented musician himself.