CD Review of Migrations by The Duhks

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Released: 2006
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The Duhks are one of the country’s top progressive folk/bluegrass bands. This sounds sort of impressive; in reality, it’s really just a nice way of saying they’re often lumped in with Nickel Creek, but don’t get as much media attention or sell as many records. The group seems content with its status: Migrations represents a subtle refinement of the sound cultivated on the first two Duhks records, with nary a hip cover or concession to a trend to be found.

This is to the band’s credit. Newgrass is a problematic genre; when faced with the task of making roots music relevant in the 21st century, its practitioners often take the easy way out, and run the old tropes through a shiny modern blender. What the Duhks seem to realize is that such drastic steps aren’t necessary – in fact, they’re often undertaken to the music’s detriment. In the final analysis, if the band’s music isn’t as eclectic or buzzworthy as, say, Nickel Creek’s, that’s okay; it’s often more consistent.

The problem with this consistency is that it’s all fairly unremarkable. The songs are well-written, or well-chosen, and the performances are flawless, but nothing has any real lasting impact. By concentrating on material that’s either cheerfully upbeat or simply pretty, the band creates an emotional vacuum that prevents Migrations from being much more than a pleasant listen – which is ironic, considering the timelessness of the music the group is drawing from.

And that’s what ultimately sinks this record. Classic folk and bluegrass music is full of flaws – that’s part of its charm – but it gets over on raw, honest emotion. That’s something mostly absent here, and it’s a deficiency felt more deeply because of what these songs are trying to evoke. Hardly an unforgivable crime, and one from which the band will pardon itself, in all probability, before too long, but disappointing nonetheless.

~Jeff Giles