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  The Mad Dukes Sing and Play for You  
  The Mad Dukes  
  Rippyfish Records  
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The Mad Dukes are an Austin band who are the brain child of one Kim Simpson, a gentleman originally from Salt Lake City who later relocated to Austin, Texas in the early 1990s. Apparently, their live performance have always been note-worthy, as the lineup has evolved and changed along with the music they played (I hear they once did Finnish Folk songs). Anyway, as I am the local Austin music geek, the band's record The Mad Dukes Sing and Play for You ended up on my desk, where it stayed for a long, long time.

But eventually, it came to the top of the pile, and I popped the CD in and took a few listens. The record begins with the softly acoustic Invasion Song. By the time I got it into the narrative, the song had come to a quick conclusion, and I had yet to judge the overall feel of The Mad Dukes. But then the band moves into Joey Superteen, which has a slight angst fell over a nicely plucked guitar riff. Admittedly, the mixing focus is on Simpson's voice, but with a full backing band, this tune has a bouncy Indie feel which calls to mind any number of early 90s Indie bands.

After the Dire Straights-like Looking for That Girl, The Made Dukes pull out the sliding Big Leg at the White Rabbit, which is ostensibly about a Salt Lake City band. This tune has a blues rock sound, which suits the repetitive chorus and the narrative. Likewise, this more rock oriented song comes across as more interesting than the more folk-ish songs, such as the following tune The Pleasure in Mine, which goes a good two minutes too long, or the quirky Morris Mayflower.

But just when I was about to give up hope, the liltingly poppy Song of the Time came on. It still has the Mark Knopfler-esque vocals. But the more rapid beat and insistent drumming and bass gives this tune a little more oomph than earlier songs and show why someone might think The Mad Dukes have something to say. Likewise, the following song,Face on the Dartboard, combines the quirky lyrical line of the earlier songs with a chanted melody that manages to turn the slightly weird into something accessible and interesting.

But for me, the highlight of this record is the positively joyous One Man World. On this, Simpson and the band give their storytelling a nice emphasis with a horn section and melodica. It's the first song that flies above the straight-forward narratives backed with straight-forward guitar playing that characterizes their sound. Yes, it feels a little bit country-ish, but then again the happy drawl of Simpson's voice plays well enough in that type of genre. After that, we have a little bit of irony as the bank sings Folk Festival, a slightly jokey blues tune which speaks of attending a folk show. It's a little cliched, but still funny, especially in juxtaposition with The Mad Dukes' acoustic material.

With the next to last song, The Mad Dukes pick up the pace a bit. What Love Is is a straight up rocker, much like you might here by any slightly-psychedelic rock act, albeit without the meandering. It's bouncy and melodically together, which makes it one of my favorite tunes on this record. However, the very long final song, The Mad Dukes Sign Off, harkens back to the slower, acoustic side of the band. Despite this, there is a catchy piano riff which backs the music, which gives this song more emotional force than the musical lament would have otherwise.

Upon repeated listens, it's clear that The Mad Dukes Sing and Play for You is something of a music grab bag. The songs range for softly acoustic to blues rock to psychedelia and beyond. These rapid changes make the album a bit schizophrenic, and make it hard for me to pinpoint exactly what audience The Mad Dukes should reach. As an example, I doubt the people who'd like What Love Is would appreciate The Pleasure is Mine and vice versa. Yet, one can see the quirky and humorous lyrical vision of Kim Simpson throughout the record. And I suspect if you like this type of wit, you'll like whatever musical form in which it is delivered.

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