Paul Duncan

Above the Trees

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Paul Duncan's work can, perhaps, be called workmanlike -- not a criticism, but simply an observation. With plenty of musical training combined with self-production abilities, he has crafted a series of albums that reflect his interest in lower-key, acoustic-led but string and electric guitar-shaded rock compositions that are at once accomplished and fairly conventional, aiming to please a certain taste rather than to challenge. Above the Trees doesn't change this path all that much; from the start of "Red Eagle," with its deft, gentle blend of moody twang and brisk playing that suggests Nick Drake in thrall to Gram Parsons, Duncan shows he knows his stuff while still being content to recombine rather than to explore outward. This all said, the ten-track album is definitely the work of someone who aims high with his goals -- compared to so much slapdash attitude and self-pity, there's a rich depth to his arrangements in particular that's often captivating. There's a polite way around Above the Trees that might frustrate some listeners in an era of freak folk hype, but if the slightly whirlwind instrumental break of "The Fire" never fully goes over the moon, say, it's still a fine effort. Meanwhile, Duncan's ear for dark shadings and gentle drama throughout serves him very well -- consider the soft drones and lonesome, late-night guitar twang that opens and continues through the album's centerpiece and best song, the dramatic "Parasail," as well as the quietly haunting Theremin part that adds an unearthly edge to the brief title track.

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