Review - FolkWax - The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer (June, 2009)
"In the hands of a less honest and courageous songwriter, inwardness is often the slippery slope to ho-hum. But, in her best songs, Antje's insights are couched in exciting narratives that read more like fable than diary entry."
Antje Duvekot's new CD, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer, leaves the impression that a mantle is being passed from one generation of songwriter to the next. Much in evidence on this recording are the currently reigning Lucy Kaplansky (harmony vocals), Richard Shindell (producer, guitar, voice), and John Gorka (more harmonies). But the role they each play is that of satisfied mentor—sitting back and enjoying the fabulous wonder of their student dancing across the high wire.
And dance she does—as if nobody is watching. There's a sense that these songs were created on instinct, without regard for voguish formula or formal training. Her instrumentation is acoustic. Her pretty melodic sense falls to the Pop and soft Rock end of the Folk spectrum. She's much more Boston or Greenwich Village than Delta or Appalachia, or even Nashville. In fact, aside from the American Folksingers who helped bring this album to life, she reminds me most of Irish singers such as Luka Bloom or Mary Black, with her genuine, unadorned singing and European taste for archetype.
Physically, Duvekot is the belle of the ball. Tall, blonde and blue-eyed, she's surprisingly a creature of mist and moonlight, solitarily converting the daily collage of sight and sound into short tales rich in metaphor. In the hands of a less honest and courageous songwriter, inwardness is often the slippery slope to ho-hum. But, in her best songs, Antje's insights are couched in exciting narratives that read more like fable than diary entry.
She opens with one such song, "Vertigo," the cut from which the album draws its name. It's a beautiful, bittersweet, soaring melody delicately accented by mandolin and piano. It tells the unavoidable truth that passionate people will willingly jettison all safety and sense for the sake of love--tomorrow's brokenness be damned. Her metaphor is a high-wire dancer, thus imbuing the simple tale with all the rich appeal of glitter and held breath and daring. The album's alluring cover art reflects this theme, with midnight blues, star-spangled skies, and Duvekot up on the wire bedecked in gothic red velvet and lace.
The fourth track, "Lighthouse," is equally romantic and inventive. In this story she's a lighthouse marooned in a barren desert remembering her ocean's cool waters. Imagining lighthouse and ocean as parted lovers is truly original, and deeply affecting as she creates a united force of tender melody and unguarded confession.
In her less impressive moments Antje tries to pack a great deal into a song: too many metaphors, which quickly begin working at cross-purposes, making meaning less rather than more clear (as in the second track "Ragdoll Princes & Junkyard Queens" or the seventh, "Scream"); or possibly too many examples of a fairly simple concept, creating a minor problem with meandering (such as in track 3, "Long Way" or track 10 "Merry-Go-Round"). But in both of these songs she pretty much saves the day with the occasional very cool line and her consistently excellent presentation.
Duvekot's is a style that Richard and Lucy and John and Ellis Paul taught us to love. Now we hear it coming from her generation: Anais Mitchell, Mark Erelli, Seth Glier, Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst. These young folks are doing a beautiful job as individual artists and, very importantly, in carrying forward the Folk spirit of community above ego. (Erelli has songwriting and performance credits on this album, and Glier lends his keyboard skills. Some of the others appear in the lengthy thank you section in the liner notes.) These are the artists who will be headlining our festivals and filling our clubs in the years to come. If you haven't gotten to know them yet, High Wire Dancer would be a fine place to begin.
FolkWax Rating: 7
Reader Rating: 7
Sarah Craig is a contributing writer at FolkWax. Sarah may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org