Lucid Culture


Al Duvall at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 7/11/08

“I’ve got cds for sale,” Al Duvall told the crowd at Freddy’s Friday night. “Buena Vista Social Club, Best of Madness. I found them on the street. I’ll sell them to you for a buck.”


Duvall’s not only one of New York’s best songwriters, he’s also one of the funniest. His stock in trade is antique music. Many of his ragtime songs, which he plays on the banjo, could be Edison cylinder hits from a hundred years ago. Like the oldtimey stuff he obviously loves, his songs are topical, steeped in history and imbued with an inimitable and sometimes scandalous wit. None of this is X-rated – Duvall’s songs get over on suggestion and innuendo, most of it sexual in nature. Tonight’s show surprisingly showcased his more serious stuff (serious being a relative word) but still had the audience smiling throughout his too-short, barely 40-minute set. He has a huge back catalog, to the extent that he can do a completely different show pretty much every time out, and there were a lot of unfamiliar gems in this one.


Duvall’s narratives are generally set at least a century ago or earlier and almost invariably celebrate the down-and-out: the guy dating the trashman’s predictably aromatic daughter, the guy who drinks too much and gets thrown out by his wife, and the “white sheep of the family” who tries so hard yet manages to get everything wrong. He opened with a song called I Studied a Broad: Duvall is physically incapable of resisting a pun. Later on in the set, he did an eerie one with something of an Irish ballad feel about a hobo arrested by the Pinkertons (the 19th Century equivalent of Halliburton) and framed for a bunch of jobs he didn’t do: after all, he’s a hobo, who’s going to believe him? Then he gets the chair. But then they botch the execution. Duvall’s grisly account of how the guy rides the lightning again, and again, and again could have been written by Tom Lehrer, but it’s also a whole lot more potent an anti-death penalty number than anything that guy from Pearl Jam ever wrote.


The Kentucky Mermaid, Duvall sang, “Sits in the bathtub, smoking seaweed…putting the pound cake away.” Too bad she’s landlocked: she strayed too far from her piers. Duvall also has a way with a hook: a fast, rocking song possibly titled I Don’t Like You, William Nave scorched along on an absolutely smoking chord progression as the chorus came in. Duvall isn’t exactly unknown, either, as you can see from his myspace: he’s got a ton of friends, and not a single one generated by a robot. Catch him now before NPR discovers him and then the only place you’ll be able to see him will be Lincoln Center for a hundred bucks. Right now, his next show is at Pete’s Candy Store on July 17 at 9.

July 12, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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