(KDHX) When the Duhks first came on the scene in 2001 they were, right off the mark, as challenging as they were entertaining, and as infectious as they were affecting. Jessee Havey’s voice was the band in a nutshell: soulful, though not typically so, and able to add depth to material that in other hands might be entirely unremarkable. The albums they made became essential expressions of the time and, on stage or on CD, they grabbed your attention and kept it.
And then it began to dissolve. There were regrettable personnel changes, and when Havey left it felt like she took the point of the band with her. The group slowly receded from view. When at last their website noted an indefinite hiatus, it was easy to assume that it had vanished for good.
Which makes the release of this new album, “Beyond the Blue,” such a welcome and surprising event. There is a new lineup, though the twin suns of the Duhks universe — Havey and Leonard Podolak — are very happily back together again. The ensemble is still finding its legs, it should be said, and this album isn’t as consistently authoritative or confident as some of the earlier material. At times the arrangements, such as “Burn” and “Suffer No Fools,” rely too heavily on repetition and inflection to carry the piece. The song “Burn” in particular comes off as weak, as far as content and sentiment goes, which is that a lover wants his ex to, as the title suggests, burn. (Ho hum. Yes, I remember high school too.)
The production across the album feels rushed and uneven, as with the snare drum and horns on “These Dreams.” On the other end of the spectrum, the production of “Je Pense á Toi” is wonderful, especially around the use of the percussion instruments to create a very lovely feel behind the layered vocals.
Still, the high points handily outnumber the low. The title track, “Beyond the Blue,” is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. “Je Pense á Toi” is stated and reprised, both tracks becoming highlights, as does “Lazy John.” If the use of horns and drums feels tentative elsewhere, the band makes up for it spades on “Just One Step Away.”
If there are a few soft spots here and there, the band has nevertheless revived its ability to command attention. This album grabs you, takes you on a journey, and when it’s over, it seems that the energy has gone out of the room. And it has.