You could say that Mount Laurel, New Jersey, artist Matt Duke is a pioneer. Duke was the artist that launched a relationship between Rykodisc and the Drexel College-based Mad Dragon Records. His 2006 record, Winter Child, was the linchpin that put Rykodisc firmly into the mix and Duke onto the distribution table. These combinative results led to Rykodisc stepping up and partnering with Mad Dragon, as well as displaying interest in other student-run labels that looked to have much to offer.
It was probably just a matter of time before Rykodisc asked Duke to sign with them, and that partnership produced the 2008 release, Kingdom Underground. Produced by former Columbia point man Marshall Altman, Kingdom Underground was pivotal in Duke’s development, leading him through massive amounts of touring and ushering in his next Rykodisc project with One Day Die. I covered that record back in 2012 and I’ve been watching him since that release.
Duke’s ability has been well-nurtured by the people in his professional life. From the early days of encouragement from his mother and her trusty Penco acoustic to the long-ranging intuitional smarts of Mad Dragon guru Marcy Wagman, Duke has had the steady hand of reason at his side. Currently managed by former Warner Music kingpin Jason Spiewak, Duke continues his push into inquisitive new spaces and directions with Singer/Songwriter.
Producer Marshall Altman is back on Singer/Songwriter and brings his trademarked knack of creating a timeless focus with Duke’s music, and the overall disc tumbles into a beautifully somber sector of original tones and compositional surprises.
Songs such as “Behold” materialize on dirge-like acoustics, minor-fueled whispers and the melancholy angst viewed from the “ejectable passenger seat by the door.” Stark beats tick off building timelines as Duke’s raw and throaty growl pulls the piece into a tragically beautiful outro chorus.
“Highwire” ticks off in its mid-tempo elegance and grace. Cellos bark deep, rustic lines of support as Duke’s vocals soar into soprano-fueled lanes of a melodic confession. Percussive background tics are subliminally intriguing and never become too focal or overbearing. Duke’s intimate wavering tone reminds me of the better days of Adam Duritz and his mastery over the human emotion.
“K” is the pop star on this 10-song platter of probable gold. “K” swings into unavoidable lanes of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars as the drum machines pump and hand claps pop in time to sugar-coated choruses that guarantee head turns and wiggles from teenage Twitter princesses and lap dog models. It’s one of those syrupy songs that girls will use as a ringtone and guys will quickly turn down when they come to a traffic light. It’s that good.
And while Duke’s gift at creating unapologetic pop diamonds and off-kilter arrangements are more than refreshing, he also can turn on a dime with songs like “Undefined.” This is a song that is bound to have a long love affair with radio. Combining addictive and melancholy choruses, a solid verse and bridge arrangement and fathoms of color, “Undefined” is just the opposite of its moniker when it comes to supplying the soul with limitless miles of solid sentiment. His unique compositional insight reminds me of Michael Jackson’s intuitive targeting on Thriller. Guaranteed chart-topping music with a flourishing twist and a money shot to boot.
Singer/Songwriter is an effective and addictive effort from Duke, and I can’t help but wonder how this record would have sounded with a deeper utilization of an actual band. Duke has the industry formula locked and loaded, but his expressive compositional style on Singer/Songwriter places this record in the category of writer’s resume more than any type of thematic or singular offering created for the general public. And I don’t have a problem with that at all.
For more on Matt Duke and Singer/Songwriter, check him out at facebook.com/mattdukesongs.
Dark City Entertainment – The Guiding Light On Asbury’s Ocean Avenue
In a city more concerned about parking space extortion than the music from which it has benefited so greatly, Christine Feola and Dark City Entertainment take conventional Asbury expectations and mold them into savvy offerings of their very own. It hasn’t been the first time a booking agency has waltzed into a Jersey room and shaken things up, but it is the first in a very long time to do so.
Feola is the new blood in the legendary town of infamous gunslingers. Feola fronts a solid group of music-savvy hunters, and they take up where the old sheriff left off so many years ago. Keeping all of their attention on new and developing talent, DCE is filling a huge void left by the confusing and bloated hierarchies of the strip. Dark City attracts a voracious and vitally young crowd, and that is the main reason they have become an attention-grabbing focal point in the town without pity.
Feola’s success formula is created from a true love of contemporary sound more than anything else.
She tells me, “Dark City Entertainment was created once I realized that we have a huge local scene and just doing Happy Mondays wasn’t cutting it. Happy Mondays helped spur the start of Dark City Entertainment by providing the continuous fanbase of the local bands. I wanted to create killer lineups on the weekends with a cheap cover and great drink specials. Each Dark City show usually ranges quite far in genre, and has some type of party theme. Dark City has also just started to dip its fingers in band management and promotions. Right now I have two bands on my roster, Only Living Boy and The Vansaders. They are both killer rock and roll bands with a great stage performance and original style.”
Dark City’s recent Halloween show, “Dark City Entertainment’s Local Legends Halloween Bash,” was a prime example of original imagination over soaking the public with the same old thing. Instead of pounding people to come dressed up like some Walking Dead jerk off, Dark City had the artists come up with alternate costume realities and play the music of their heroes.
Artists such as Amy Malkoff & The Moonshines covered everything Black Sabbath, Only Living Boy took their shot at recreating the complexities of Radiohead, Those Crazy Misfits in The Battery Electric took on…The Misfits, Hot Blood ushered in their interpretive style of Minor Threat, Empire Escorts sprinkled the crowd with a psychedelic presentation of The Doors, Pistol Charmer cranked out The Rolling Stones, The Creeptones communicated their period correct take on The Beatles, and last but far from least, Des & The Swagmatics did their stage glide swipe at Prince.
But that’s just one example of this young, up-and-coming company that calls the Asbury Park area home. Dark City Entertainment’s popular mix of wild local acts, unique artist representation, touring bands and an independent flair for audience satisfaction will end up making them the absolute talk of the town. Well, right after the parking ticket fiasco that is.
Join Dark City on Nov. 7 for their presentation of “A Fall Affair,” featuring Secret Sound, Mad Feather Group, Cranston Dean and C.M. Smith of The Amboys. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. for the 21+ event. The Wonder Bar is located at 1213 Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park, NJ. thewonderbarasbury.com