Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
She's still the Dutchess and he's still the Duke on the Pacific Northwest band's sophomore album, "Sunrise/Sunset," but Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz have put together an enhanced vision of who they were on their debut album. The Dutchess & The Duke is certainly one of the finest folk bands working today, writing songs that should have existed decades ago, when there were no such things as digital recordings or MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3s, when everything one heard was bejazzled with the blissful hiss and hum of analog tape. It was as much of what we heard and as soothing of a sound as the box fan turned on in the bedroom at night, for some, when cooling the air isn't the reason for doing it. It was, most likely, one of Lortz's first loves. Instead of taping or push-pinning magazine cut-outs of Pete Townsend or Neil Young on his walls in junior high and high school, he would have - if he could have - taped a photographic representation of analog tape hiss to the wall. He may have even - at night - wished upon that torn out piece of paper hanging on that broad side of painted dry wall, believing that doing so would some day let him fall or work into a world that would never be missing that same hum and hiss. Lortz would have been much more at home then. And by "then," we mean another time when recording procedures were so much simpler and so much more complex, needing a near perfect performance from everyone in the group to be a take worth keeping, when the room was an auxiliary player and there were fewer ways to be anything other than what you actually were as a singer, a musician and a presence. The music and the songs on "Sunrise/Sunset" rely on this authenticity and even more so on this ability to suggest different things at once.
For the most part, Lortz and Morrison make their music feel as sun-kissed as it could possibly get, skirting any kind of reddening of the skin, avoiding damage, just giving smooches, just letting you feel as if the outside temperatures were no different than inside temperatures, as if you were walking through a continued climate - only, there's the sun meeting you halfway. It's this randomly measured way of feeling completely eased into a spot, the same way you get when you plop down on your couch, in the same spot as always, recognizing that you're the one carving the cushioning into your specifically molded ass shape. You can't fight it and you can't help but feel that your couch is better off with you having been there many times previously. That's the music, but the lyrical writing done by the pair is splendid in its seeming contrast, begging for answers to some of the more dizzying questions that tend to occupy heavy hearts, not those that occupy those kissed upon hearts at leisure, when a day's asking for nothing other than carefree floating time. You have lovers continually asking if they're missing something, if they're just forgetting or refusing to see something so obvious. It could just be that lessons have been learned the hard way over the years, but there's a healthy dose of skepticism that these emotions are all built upon the sand and there's no sense in getting too partial to any of them, or the people who are offering them. There are frequent mentions of hands, and an emphasis on the indisputable fact that most everyone has two of them and they each can be doing opposite things at the same time - with enough coordination and skill. Lortz sings on the album's lead-off track "Hands," "One hand gone and the other trying to hold on," and later on the record about a woman holding him, but there exists an ominous tone, "In your heart, there's another man and I just think that's wrong." There's a duplicity to these sugars and to these bitter strains of cruel medicine that ultimately still equate to a delicious sweetness.