21-year old Duke?s debut album was released by Drexel University?s student-run record label and includes an impressive array of guests from Marshall Crenshaw and Brad Roberts to The Roches (Suzzy and Lucy). For such an unproven commodity like Duke, this means he either has powerful friends in high places or else he is actually very good. Well, after listening to the disk, I?ll opt for the latter. There?s an attractive, earnest quality in Duke?s voice and the galloping and bouncy melodies he brings to tracks like the opening single ?Oysters? suggests he may have a few Tommy Keene and Matt Keating albums in his collection. A little too much ?American Idol?-styled over-emoting creeps into a few tracks, like ?Don?t Ask (For Too Much),? but they?re quickly overshadowed by the shuffling, rolling melody of other entries like ?The Love We?ll Never Know? that have nice laidback Paul Simon vibes about them.
Duke?s banjo and mandolin (at least that?s what I think I hear ? he?s credited with playing ?acoustics? and ?electrics? and there are no guitar credits) add a nice down-home touch to ?Tidal Waves,? the next single and the track that?ll probably get the most attention due to the star-studded backing vocals of Crenshaw, The Roches and head Crash Test Dummy, Roberts. Duke?s lyrics are refreshingly intelligent for one of such tender years, eschewing the typical puppy-dog-in-love songs for literary references (as befits a university student) to Sartre (?Nausea?) and Hemingway (?Ballroom Dancing? name checks Papa?s short story ?Hills Like White Elephants?), while ?Yellow Lights? and ?Tidal Waves? express religious and political concerns, respectively, and the tender ?One Small Bird? relates the tale of one young individual?s attempts to escape the violence of our inner cities. There?s even a rustic, autumnal feel to the snappy, strolling instrumental ?Taxidermy & The Skiffle Explosion,? which reminds me of W.G. Snuffy Walden?s themes to Marshall Herskovitz & Ed Zwick?s ?Thirtysomething? and My So Called Life? and, as such, would work perfectly as the theme to some upcoming primetime TV show.
Duke ends on a forlorn note with the acoustic confessional ?To Whom It May Concern,? a promissory note and plea for forgiveness for certain youthful indiscretions, presumably in the game of love. It?s a very promising debut, so remember the name Matt Duke?you should be hearing great things from him in the future. 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (9 October, 2006)