Cuff the Duke

Union

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Union finds Cuff the Duke moving away from their country-rock and Americana roots (if a band from Toronto can be said to have Americana roots) toward a more mainstream sound. Union is meant as a companion piece to last year's Morning Comes, which featured songs that dealt with bad relationships and the specter of life as an adult. This time they're dealing with the upside of aging and maturity. They've jettisoned the pedal steel and keening vocals that marked their country phase to make an unashamedly pop record, although their retro predilections are still in evidence. They show off several styles here to good effect. "Open Your Mind," as you might expect, features a gigantic psychedelic lead guitar solo, spacy keyboards, and Wayne Petti's nebulous quasi-mystical vocals. "Carry On" is a dramatic folk-rock tune with a hint of early Merseybeat in its arrangement. "Something for Free" suggests a brighter, lighter version of the Velvet Underground aiming for an AM hit. "Side by Side" is a rollicking, uplifting love song with jubilant harmony vocals from Basia Bulat, and "Live My Life" tries to find some salvation in a relationship that's obviously going nowhere with an uplifting chorus as a counterbalance to the bleak images of the verse. The strongest track is the seductive "Stay," which sports a big, twangy guitar hook, a fervid vocal, and a galloping rhythm. Union is a pleasant listen, but never quite reaches the anthemic heights the band is trying for.

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