The Duhks

Beyond the Blue

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Mixing Celtic fiddles, old-time claw hammer banjo, Latin percussion, blues- and Cajun-infused vocals, and a deft country pop touch, Winnipeg's Duhks, at their best, stretch traditional folk and string band sounds into the 21st century with a sharp freshness, all without distorting or demolishing the group's traditional base, something that is a lot easier to say than actually do. They aren't deliberately innovative so much as they're smart assimilators, and even that can get stale and predictable, a difficult line the band walks and mostly avoids on Beyond the Blue, the group's fifth studio album. Produced by Mike Merenda and Ruth Unger of the Mammals, and helped by the return of vocalist Jessee Havey (non-touring founding vocalists Tania Elizabeth and Jordan McConnell are also present here) and new members, fiddler Rosie Newton, drummer/percussionist Kevin Garcia, and guitarist/bouzouki player Colin Savoie-Levac, the Duhks seem rejuvenated throughout this set. The opener and title track, a fine cover of Beth Nielson Chapman and Gary Nicholson's "Beyond the Blue," suits Havey's near-alto and wonderfully nuanced vocals, and sets the tone for the varied fare that follows, including a nice reworking of the traditional "Banjo Roustabout." No matter how far afield the band travels musically, founder Leonard Podolak's fine claw hammer banjo playing is always at the rhythmic center of things, and paces nearly every track, including the stomping Cajun reel "Lazy John," another of the album's highlights. If there's a danger in the weeds for the Duhks, it might be in trying to be all things at once, a situation they avoid, for the most part, on this fine addition to their catalog.

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