Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
The Dutchess and the Duke with Greg Ashely and Bryan Frazier
9 p.m., Thursday, Dec.10
Jesse Lortz sings in a country baritone somewhere between Jagger at his gentlest and Stephin Merritt on allergy medicine. He's the Duke. Kimberly Morrison is the Dutchess. She sings harmonies that are equal parts sweet and sad. Their arrangements evoke classic pop — “Between Buttons”-era Stones, mid-period Kinks, the Animals — warm, and stripped-down, full of simple, lasting melodies.
But lyrically there's a dark undercurrent. Lortz, a veteran of the Seattle garage-punk scene, writes nakedly emotional and confessional songs. The band's debut, “She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke,” finds him angry and resentful, meditating on the past. “But you put this pain in my heart / and you put this shame in my soul / and you wrapped your memory around me / so I wouldn't die in the rain and the cold,” he sings on “Mary,” the B-side of the band's first single that led Hardly Art, the Sub Pop sister label, to sign the duo even before seeing it live.
The Dutchess and the Duke's new album, “Sunrise/Sunset,” captures Lortz in a new place — he and his wife recently had a child — but unable to shake his demons. In one of the album's most affecting songs, “Let It Die,” Lortz makes no bones about his anxiety: “In the bed, my woman lies sweetly with a love that I just can't see / Inside there's a little child now, with a heart and soul that's free.” Later, he sings, “I could hide from the life I chose” and “I could keep what's left of me.”
Asked if his lyrics have ever gotten him in trouble, Lortz laughs. “Definitely. A lot of times. But that means the songs are doing what they're supposed to do.”
When Lortz and Morrison toured for the first time as the Dutchess and the Duke last year, they kept things really intimate, performing without amplification, often on the floor, sometimes sitting Indian-style, sometimes even lying down. This go-round, behind “Sunrise/Sunset,” which trades the first album's acoustic guitars and handclaps for occasional electric guitar and actual drums, Lortz and Morrison bring friends. On this leg, they're joined by Jered Gummere and Melissa Elias of Chicago indie-punks the Ponys.
Greg Ashley produced “Sunrise/Sunset” in his Oakland studio, and he opens for the Duke and Dutchess at Sticky Fingerz. The Texas-born multi-instrumentalist has made a name for himself in the Bay Area pysch-rock scene, fronting the Mirrors and, more recently, Gris Gris. Local singer/songwriter Bryan Frazier also shares the bill.