If you’ve ever heard a Duke Garwood album, you’ll know what to expect from Heavy Love. Your eyebrow may be raised at a title like Disco Lights, but there’s no need to fear that the South London bluesman has suddenly developed an interest in rave.
For Garwood’s fifth solo album pretty much picks up where his 2013 collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Black Pudding, left off. Lanegan’s back again, but only on production duties, creating the perfect, slow-burning atmosphere for Garwood’s brand of desolate, smoky blues rock. So, while there may be not many surprises held within Heavy Love, there’s a kind of comforting familiarity about it all.
Opening track Sometimes sets up the prevailing mood beautifully – a rumbling bass, skittery percussion and ominous sounding guitar riffs ring out before Garwood’s deep, growly voice almost fills up the speakers. The lyrics are pretty abstract (“We catch fire in the pouring rain” seems to be the repeated motif) but that doesn’t detract from the song’s generally doomy and portentous air.
There’s a very minimal feel to Heavy Love, with tracks like Sweet Wine sounding almost skeletal, being built upon a couple of beautifully minor guitar chords, and Garwood’s half-spoken, half-sung voice. It almost comes as something of a shock when Jehnny Beth of Savages shows up on the title track to provide guest vocals, and Petra Phillipson does likewise on Disco Lights. It’s no coincidence that they’re by far the best two tracks on the album, the contrast between Garwood’s growl and Beth and Phillipson’s lighter touch working wonders.
Elsewhere though, it’s very much more of the same. Which, while not exactly a bad thing, means that there’s not too much in the way of variety on Heavy Love. About halfway though, it becomes a bit of a slog to get through, especially the somewhat monotonous Honey In The Ear, and by the end of the record, a slightly narcotic haze may have set in.
In some ways in fact, Heavy Love may work better as some sort of mood piece, in where you sit back, plug in the headphones and just let the ten tracks wash over you. There’s a mystical, otherworldly feeling to it, with various moments standing out – the hushed organ on Roses, the gentle guitar picking on Sweet Wine or the hypnotic voodoo clatter of Snake Man – rather than individual songs.
None of this is to deny Garwood’s talent of course – he plays most of the instruments on the album, and each song is expertly crafted and drenched in an atmosphere that could have come come bottled from the American Deep South. Yet its dreamy, hazy vibe and minimally lean songs add to a homogeneity that sometimes make it a bit wearisome as a full album.
The guest vocals on Disco Lights and the title track do hint at a promising new direction for Garwood – an album where a different female vocalist contrasts against his deep growl could work the sort of wonders for him that his friend Lanegan experienced with Isobel Campbell. Meanwhile, Heavy Love is a fine, if ultimately inessential, summation of what Garwood does best.