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September 03, 2009

The Duke and the King

The Duke, the King, and the Deacon jam in the kitchen on "The Morning I Get to Hell."

by John Oseid

The Duke and the King represent a rich slice of Americana. They play roots rock with soulful harmonies and a touch of gospel--echt Yankee sounds. Even their monikers are quintessentially American: Veteran musicians Simone Felice (the Duke) and Robert "Chicken" Burke (the King) borrowed the names from the famous charlatans in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

When I caught them recently at New York City's Mercury Lounge with Nowell Haskins (the Deacon), I lost track of how many times the talented trio switched off on drums, guitar and vocals. Recorded in the Catskills, their first album together, Nothing Gold Can Stay, is at once plaintive and life-affirming. And it's lyrically vivid. In the tune "The Morning I Get to Hell," the boys relate how "the devil will take me up in his Ferris wheel." Wayward characters in the ballad "Union Street" search about "in that part of town that Jesus forgot." When Burke takes the lead and sings about loss and regret on "Still Remember Love," he manages to make it a jaunty, twangy, and bright number.

More music:
* If you'll be in the UK this month, you can find the Duke and the King performing a dozen gigs throughout the country, and one in Barcelona. You can find the tour schedule on their MySpace page.
* Felice and Burke recently spoke with NPR about their creative process and played live in the studio.
* Boom Box: Music of the world


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