The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen' by Duke Special

Duke Special - Stage, The Book And The Silver ScreenReview Snapshot: Ireland’s most versatile and underrated musician excels with a trilogy of albums influenced by books, stage, and screen, covering a wide range of music genres that he masters with aplomb. 

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review: The opening album, Mother Courage and her Children is based on the 1930s anti-war play by Bertold Brecht, which Duke has added music to, and the violin on the opening Prelude sets the tone for this disc with haunting orchestral arrangements throughout ensuring that this is no comedy.

From the title track, Duke manages to tell the story of the soldiers, and carries this track to a crescendo, a 21st Century 'A Day in the Life' perhaps. The beautiful ballad 'Yvette (song of fraternization)' is as good as anything Duke has written, while 'Soldier’s Song' is the most upbeat number on the album, and lifts the gloom with lyrics like "your tits, girls show ‘em fast", giving it a sing-a-long drinking song feel to it.
'Lullaby' will convince you this story has a happy ending with Duke tinkling the ivory with whispered vocals, that’ll have you falling in love with this track from the start.
While there’s no doubt, you could relate more to these songs if you’d seen the play, it’s not essential as he manages to mix it up well with a selection of upbeat and somber numbers.
The second disc, Huckleberry Finn (The book) is more and EP than an album, with only five tracks, and it consists of Kurt Weill’s unfinished musical based on the Mark Twain novel.
'Come In Mornin’ is another of Special's beautiful emotional ballads and is the highlight here, whereas 'Apple Jack' touches on the Garden of Eden saga and is a foot-tapping infectious number.
Most of the tracks here are only two minutes long, including the theatrical 'Catfish Song' (about Huck and Tom Sawyer), but it’s quality not quantity that makes this disc short, but very very sweet.
Disc 3, The Silent World of Hector Mann is based on Paul Auster’s ‘Book of illusions’. Duke actually gave 11 songwriters a copy of the book and asked each one to write a song, so this is a compilation of 12 tracks all written by different artists.
The opening number Hearth and Home has a warmth feeling that filters throughout this collection, especially on the beautiful ‘Old Folks and Cow Pokes’. ‘Country Weekend’ is a bouncy number that tells the tale of a chauffeur trying to marry his passenger, while ‘The Prop Man’ is sang at twice the speed of sound and convinces you of the realism and panic that happens just prior to curtain call.
Neil Hannon’s 'Wanda, Darling of the Jockey Club' has 1920’s all over it, as Duke tells the story of the aviatrix, and this deserves to be a hit, and could be the song that brings him to a wider audience in the UK.
'Mister Nobody' (penned by Duke) is a typical piano somber ballad, while Tango Tangle does exactly what it says on the tin. Double or Nothing reminds me of a cross between Kenny Rogers and Kris Kristofferson, while closing number 'Tellers Tale' (written by Aqualung’s Matt Hales) is emotional, sentimental, and beautiful in its simplicity.
I honestly thought a trilogy of albums from the Duke was too much in one go, but ‘The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen' is a fascinating collection of various genres of music, that even a pop fan like myself couldn’t find fault with.

Mick Lynch

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Nuggets from our archive

2004 - The CLUAS Reviews of Erin McKeown's album 'Grand'. There was the positive review of the album (by Cormac Looney) and the entertainingly negative review (by Jules Jackson). These two reviews being the finest manifestations of what became affectionately known, around these parts at least, as the 'McKeown wars'.