The low growl with which Duke Garwood’s voice hums out of the speakers is enough to send even the brightest of souls into a shadowed soul search. It’s rare when a voice alone inspires such introspection, but with his fifth studio album Heavy Love, Garwood presents psychedelic nostalgia wrapped up in a jewel case.
The foundation for this album is built upon years of sundry musical endeavours. Throughout his solo career, the dual narrative of Duke Garwood was a maelstrom of projects, ranging from The Archie Bronson Outfit to the ‘New Dream Machine Project’, a collaboration with Shezad Dawood, which picked up the 1968 recording of none other than Brian Jones. Once all of these puzzle pieces fall into place, it is no wonder Heavy Love sounds as it does. It is aptly named, with hints of fuzzy LSD remembrance and dashes of abstract beat poetry lyrics are all underpinned by bluesy neuropathy, a weighting down of the whole album.
The anticipation in the first 51 seconds of opening track ‘Sometimes’ constructs an imaginary tension that can only be alleviated by his voice. The lub-dub bass drum stretches out in infinity through the track, and ‘Sometimes’ metamorphosises from a song into a sermon. Garwood’s lyrics never reveal a tangible meaning, and with no overt subject, you’re free to assign your own symbolism to “catching fire in the pouring rain”.
Songs are demarcated only by the brief gaps of silence between each one. You come up for air in time to be plunged back into the depths with title track ‘Heavy Love’. With no object of affection, ‘Heavy Love’ operates as a universally applicable love song. A love song not about he or she, with its muffled female harmonies slips out of grasp, like waking from a dream, into ‘Burning Seas’.
With a near perfect imitation of The Doors’ groundbreaking sound, ‘Burning Seas’ sound may seem revolutionary to a young listener, but for classic rock aficionados it is a not-so-subtle nod to the Dionysian king of rock. Garwood’s voice slips and slides over notes like the strings on a lap steel guitar. He plays again on the fire and water metaphors, but the choice of the words is lost in the midst of the viscous haze of the blues.
‘Disco Lights’ reprises the trancelike female echoing; the brief flickers of soprano are a welcome contrast to Garwood’s Tom-Waits-ian rumble and slight reprieve from the incessant bass. The lighter guitar of ‘Sweet Wine’ is the only backdrop to Garwood’s lyrics, and it is in this song that his poetry is free to take centre stage. Instead of being muffled behind his (perhaps too) perfectly crafted blues sound, the words become the vehicle for the songs tone. It is melancholy, as blues are wont to be, but light in timbre.
The album then repeats this pattern – heartbeat bass, thirty seconds of anticipation broken by Garwood’s rumbling intonation: “let’s take our sweet time” – ‘Snake Man’ swims into ‘Suppertime In Hell’, the lyrical antithesis of Heavy Love‘s optimism. Instead of a sermon, we have a prayer in ‘Honey In The Ear’. Here the lyrics are the mystical lament of a drugged up preacher. Everything is sung in detached acceptance as if Garwood is telling a tale he knows by heart, pausing between sips of whiskey, staring into the honeyed glass as if it has the answers to the universe.
‘Roses’ is musical eulogy for a lover lost, and gives us another reprieve from the pounding bass drum, opening the door for the final track ‘Hawaiian Death Song’. Six minutes of expert guitar playing, highlighted occasionally by distorted vocals, fade slowly into white noise, and then nothingness.
With Heavy Love Garwood has created not so much an album as a sonic dream. While you’re in it, it’s visceral and poignant, but once you’re awake it’s hard to recall the details, the lyrics, or one song from another (except perhaps the title track). But then, maybe, when you’re going about your day you see a sun streaked window, or an empty amber bottle, and you recall the whole thing.