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Duane Forrest - The Climb (Traaxx Music)
"Oh I was sitting at the edge of the sea" sings Duane Forrest at the start of the first song, backed by the ambiance of waves on an expansive tropical beach. Steam of consciousness lyrics, spilling over with evocative detail draw you in from the start. His warm and inviting voice is backed by a rippling guitars and some keyboard bass notes. The crooning lilt is from the same beach troubadour world as Jack Johnson, but the textured backing and Duane's guitar parts give an emotional depth and a touch of edge to this story of beauty and menace. Right from the start this album is so much more than just easy on the ear ragged acoustic pop music. Piece of Cake, bubbling along over a reggae bass line is feel good music, an ode to everything that Is good, the duet vocals suggesting two people singing about the other. But Policia opens with a huge darker cello that segues into a beautiful percussion, picked acoustic guitar and vocal bossa nova. The Walk is another of these glorious juxtaposition that Duane Forrest delights in, music full of surprise where nothing can be taken for granted. Early Paul Simon acoustic music morphs into languid reggae with a huge dub beat behind Duane's passionate vocal and just a touch of Don’t Worry Be Happy. This track, like others on the album, should be on a million beach acoustic compilations and enjoyed over a cold one. Midsummer Night's Dream' carries on the Jose Gonzales meets lush reggae electronica vibe. If Zero 7 had recorded in a Cuban beach house, it would sound as good as this. 1 Night Stand and Wedding Bells show that Forrest's feelings and love can build intensity with just guitar and vocals, as easily as he does with distinctive twisting lush arrangements. 1 Night Stand is a plea to be taken seriously and the heartfelt lyric is delivered over a simple backing. Duane's passionate vocal and guitar are king, with just a few musical flourishes to really carry his message home. Wedding Bells feels like a diary entry and has a certain power because of it.
The whole album is at its core broadly biographical, THE CLIMB referring to Forrest's journey up out of darker times. Currently resident in Toronto, he has lived in Mexico, Honduras and Puerto Rico amongst others. Given this and his Jamaican heritage perhaps it is no surprise that Duane has so successfully blended Bossa Nova, Jazz, Reggae and Soul into his music and his rich ballads. Warrior 1 marries a part prayer spiritual lyric, jazzy strident double bass and some wonderful vocals. This song oozes depth and power while also screaming 'hit'. G'Morning Bossa is another heart felt love song, built round a killer guitar riff it nods lyrically and musically to the Brazilian 'new' music. Chevrolet is another album highlight, snappy electronic and acoustic percussion and a Cuban Jazz bass riff and some Cuban lyrics, the whole track overflows with class and a feeling of summer. End Of The World features two wonderfully paired soulful vocals. In this song a hypnotic groove delivers a lyrical realisation of the simple things that are really important. Poet Philip Larkin, not often mentioned in reviews of languid mutant Bossa Nova Jazz Reggae Folk, said "what will survive of us is love", and this song confirms it. Occasionally the words could come across as glib, but the sentiment is real and heartfelt in this ditty hymn to true love. Mariela Of My Dreams brings all the lyrical elements of this biographical album together. Biblical lyricism and a final heartfelt song close the set. Ever the conjourer Forrest leaves it until the final minute of the album to let his John Martynesque right hand on the guitar, build into a shimmering ecoplex cloud.
It has to be said, that vocally Duane Forrest is often very reminiscent of Jack Johnson. But it is such a beautiful, natural and hypnotic sound, that this quickly ceases to matter. Forrest clearly has a fertile musical imagination, and a host of stories to tell and his songs fizz with a million ideas. It is this ability to marry the beach troubadour vocal and slap guitar with other elements, while telling stories rich with the details of real life, that makes this album memorable and suggests that here is someone who is really going somewhere.