In the face of an apocalypse, we all need a safe house. A place for sanctuary; not to hide, but to claim for our own. On his new album, South London's unlikely bluesman Duke Garwood has found the perfect place for us all, and says it's time to meet in the Garden of Ashes. Yet for an artist who claims to be angry, there's a lot of love to be heard in Duke's music and in the face of impeding Armageddon, just as Nick Cave claims in his film One More Time With Feeling, the only way to fight anguish is with positivity. On Duke's sixth album Garden Of Ashes, that's precisely the message.
Only in the Garden of Ashes can such furious frustration be channeled. Whilst 2015's Heavy Love thrust Duke into the spotlight with well long-overdue praise for its clarity and the "mad blues" charisma of a musician at his 20-year career peak, Garden of Ashes takes it all up a level, higher than many would think possible. "This album is about midnight in the garden of love. The garden of good and evil," he explains. "The garden of paradise that we know is being destroyed to satisfy the greedy money people. It's all burned down. We burned it to ashes."
While fans, fellow artists and collaborators including Josh T. Pearson, Tinariwen, Mark Lanegan, Kurt Vile, and Savages' Jehnny Beth all marveled at Heavy Love and its depiction of an artist who has always cut his own groove, Garden of Ashes is equally doused in magnetizing imagism ("Coldblooded The Return" brings the record full circle with slightly altered lyrics as though its grown wiser throughout the course of the album and "Sleep" nods to the writing of Werner Herzog). Garden of Ashes was partly recorded in Duke's Valley Heights studio and at Giant Wafer in Wales with producer Strat Barrett at the helm. It features friends Paul May on drums, Pete Marsh on double bass and, adding a Morricone-style to some choice cuts, Smoke Fairies‘ Emily on backing vocals.
Although it explores Duke's heartache for things beyond his control, each track on Garden of Ashes, through sonorous vocal delivery, unfurls like the healing stench of a Deep Heat patch for the soul. "Sonny Boogie," gives us a song to dance to and "Heat Us Down" is a love song about appreciating the wold as it burns. The title-track's sensual tempo is the theme as lovers take a walk amongst the trees, and "Sing To The Sky" will surely ease any pre-apocalyptic pain as Duke's warm vocals soothe the crying fret squeaks.
"This record is fantasy music," Duke tells. "Beautiful apocalypse love music, it doesn't hide from reality, but it could hide the listener from it all for a while."