ALT-COUNTRY TUNES ABOUT LOSS AND HOPE
Story by Kate Davies
Photo by Jason Gordon
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” theme has always evoked images of tumbling tumbleweeds, vast desert vistas, and country cowboys. It is the ultimate tribute to outlawed bandits and dry, expansive plains, key derivatives of that old honky-tonk feel of the West. Opening their second consecutive show at the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night with this classic song, Cuff the Duke clearly paid tribute to their love for good ol’ country roots. As the boys took the stage, a resounding “yee-haw!!” echoed through the packed Tavern in anticipation of their sold out show.
Originally from Oshawa, Ontario, Cuff the Duke (composed of Wayne Petti, Paul Lowman, Dale Murray, and AJ Johnson) moved to Toronto in 2002 to promote the release of their debut album, Life Stories for Minimum Wage. Nine years later and having already notched five albums behind their belt, they have come to a point of maturity in their career where most bands feel the need to create outside of the box. However, Cuff the Duke have never been characterized as an experimental group, and their latest album is no different. Although being a band who are known for playing it relatively safe, this is exactly why their music is so pure, honest, and relatable. In a world full of synth, auto-tune, and barely distinguishable lyrics, CTD stand out as crusaders of simple melodies and heartfelt lyrics.
Their latest album, Morning Comes, is part one of a two-CD release and was produced by Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor near Peterborough, ON. Lead singer Wayne Petti describesMorning Comes as embracing “the confusion and loneliness that occurs at that point [of loss] in someone’s life”. Perhaps this loss speaks partly to the changes the band has undergone over its existence, having lost eight members over its decade-long lifespan. It is also about heavier themes such as enduring personal loss as the people around you get older. However, the group’s upcoming second part release is about “embracing what has happened and navigating down new roads”, says Petti. Where Morning Comes is the low, the next album will be the high. Cuff the Duke effectively demonstrates this maturation through the duality present in these two albums: overcoming the difficulty of loss in favour of the much stronger sentiment of hope.
At their show, this hopeful attitude was epitomized through Petti’s clear-cut vocals, even in the band’s darkest moments. New single ‘Count on Me’ proved itself as a classic country romp and sure-fire hit, ‘Time is Right’ is a nice even-tempered sing-along, ‘Standing on the Edge’ is a melodious single contender, and ‘You Don’t Know What It’s Like’ beautifully showcased Petti’s vocal range. Encompassing a quality that can be compared to Travis’ Fran Healey and the Weakerthans’ John K. Samson, hearing Petti sing was like watching Elvis Stojko do one of his infamous back flips: you just know he’s going to land it. Perhaps the climax of the show was the gorgeous tune ‘Follow Me’, a lyrically tear-jerking and musically reminiscent Wilco descendant, which attests to the power of a stripped-down melody. Other highlights included the mostly instrumental oldie ‘Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker’ and an interesting take on the Dum Dum Girls song ‘Always Looking’.
Despite the current political mindset of most beard-loving indie fans, there wasn’t an Occupied seat in the house: everyone was up and dancing. Between intermittent “yee-haw’s!”, stomping feet, and bobbing heads, the audience (which ranged from 19 year old newly initiated bar-hoppers to 60 year old concert aficionados) looked like they couldn’t have had a better Saturday night.
Having performed with the likes of Hayden, Serena Ryder, Feist, and Blue Rodeo and being unanimously revered for their live performances, Cuff the Duke are clearly a Canadian group to be proud of amongst the growing young talent of the Great White North. Even with their obviously alt-country style, they possess undeniably strong Canadian roots within both their music and attitude. Near the beginning of the show, Petti stopped to tune his guitar, apologising for the delay with “we tune because we care”. If that ain’t a Canadian sentiment, I don’t know what is. Although opening their show with “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” effectively evoked images of country western times-gone-by, the song title’s connotation is clearly misinformed, for I only saw “the Good” in this Tavern.