When I first heard Matt Duke in 2009, it was his powerful acoustic version of “Kingdom Underground” that caught my attention from Acoustic Kingdom Underground. Any artist who was able to combine a Milton-esque glimpse into Lucifer’s perspective with powerful chords and melodies is a force to be reckoned with. Duke has since released the full album One Day Die (2011) and the new EP Love On A Major Scale (2012) – and he doesn’t seem to be losing steam.
Love On A Major Scale returns Duke to his acoustic roots, though that’s almost a misnomer. His core has always seemed to be the guitar in his music, but with previous outings he’s worked in more electric in with the acoustic. The six songs here bring his performances back to simpler arrangements, slower songs, and deeper philosophy in the lyrics this time around. Duke has been on a spiritual quest of late, exploring the world after a vision opened his eyes. And though I’m not sure exactly what he’s searching for, his journeys have taken him across the U.S. and abroad and I hope he safely discovers whatever truths he seeks while continuing to create amazing music.
His voice on the EP is at once strong and wistful, with his lyrics calling to the many aspects of love while his fingers pick melodic combinations almost haunting on certain tracks. “Aching Love” certainly echoes that haunting quality, exploring how love can make us tongue-tied and worse as we hope for a glance, a touch, a kiss from the object of our affections.
“Everything Pales” almost has a Don Henley feel to the chords and rhythms as Duke tells the story of the early days of a love affair when things are fresh, new and difficult to speak about: “Hope for the hopelessly/Lost and confused, how everything pales/It’s love on a major scale.” This is a song of the hope in a shiny new relationship where everything feels amazing and you just want to be together.
And “The Eyes” continues that vibe but adds the sadness in knowing that those wistful moments sometimes end. It’s all about the “moment” when things turn from good to bad when two lovers know things can’t go on. “The moment your eyes drew colors from a world once dark/The moment was mine to wrap you up and say that I love you/The moment was there until the moment fell apart….” Again, a simple pick pattern backs Duke’s voice as he explores the knowledge that “things are too good to be true” sometimes. It’s one of those songs that reminded me of all those moments love turned to sadness in my own life and yet I smile knowing the good was there at the same time.
But I think “Left to the Sea” is probably my favorite on the album, about time and the inevitable end. The most philosophical of the songs on the EP, there are religious and thoughtful questions bound up in dealing with our own mortality. “Though I’ll never be sure if my soul’s mine to keep/Or if death ends the quest for the answers I seek/No matter what happens long after I leave/It is my will to be left to the sea….” Of the arrangements, this is one of the simplest, keeping time with chords as things steadily march to the end.
Ultimately this EP is a combination of hope and introspection. From being infatuated to the grief of losing a loved one and your own eventual passing, there’s a completeness here. In an age of singles, I’m still encouraged by a new group of artists who believe that though a song can tell a tale, an album can tell more than one and they can be woven together. Love On A Major Scale is far from an average album, so be sure you’re ready for the emotional roller coaster. It’s definitely worth the ride.
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