by Al Kaufman
A musician always takes a big risk by opening his CD with his best song. Sure, he captures the listener's attention right away, but then he puts himself in the unenviable position of having to retain it.
Dare Dukes has no problem with this. Prettiest Transmitter of All opens with "The Ballad of Darius McCollum," a true story about a man with Asperger Syndrome, who was infatuated with the New York subway and actually drove a train after impersonating a conductor. With a rich and bouncy melody, and a voice that inkers on the brink of flatness, Dukes practically embodies McCollum. Lyrics like "Electric motors are the prettiest transmitters of all," allows us a glimpse inside McCollum's obsessed mind.
Yes, nothing else on this seven-song CD is as good as Darius, but a lot of stuff comes close. The Savannah-based singer, who got here by way of San Jose, Minneapolis, and New York, is certainly a fan of local favorite, Vic Chestnutt. Like Chestnutt, his melodies are hook-laden but intricate. If forced to choose between a major or minor chord, Dare always chooses the less obvious and more interesting latter. His voice, as mentioned earlier, barely hangs onto the melody, and, also like Chestnutt, he shows a deep affinity for the strangeness and eccentricities in people.
"Lucas Goes to the Demolition Derby," which sounds like it should certainly be an upbeat number, is sung as a contemplative ballad, adding weight to the smash-'em-up event; as do lyrics such as "God loves sons and brothers for their total lack of fear/And so to the derby we must go."
The people in Dukes' songs are not losers per se; they are just different, kind of like we all are. And Dukes loves them for that, which makes it very easy to in turn love Dukes.