By Shain Shapiro

Migrating is a tough task. I know; I just emigrated overseas. Sometimes the pangs of home pierce me, whether it is yearning for a rancid cup of Tim Hortons' coffee or chips with cheese and gravy done right. For Winnipeg, Canada's The Duhks, their third full-length Migrations symbolizes and epitomizes the joy and pain in migrating. For the quintet, the migration refers to their adopted home in Nashville, where this album was recorded with Tim O'Brien. Yet this album is influenced by home more than their adopted home. While Nashville's creative flair flickers sporadically throughout the listen, especially with O'Brien's crisp production skills capturing each acoustic instrument perfectly, it is Winnipeg, or more broadly Canada as a whole, that drives Migrations, creating a collection fuelled on the trials and successes of migrating while understanding that no matter where you go, home is omnipresent, as long as you want it to be.

This is The Duhks' most adult-contemporary, accessible record to date; however, this is not accomplished by reverting into a pop-fuelled realm. Instead, The Duhks cleverly incorporate Canada's rich traditional musical fabric, from acoustic prairie country to francophone Acadian Celtic, crafting their most memorable and brooding work yet. To start, the first two songs are brilliant. "Ol' Cook Pot," an eerie, violin-led Zydeco treat that makes me want whatever is boiling beneath its lid, and "Mountain O' Things," a lyrically potent, honest bluegrass ballad that grinds into the banality of extreme materialism, exemplify the quartet at their soulful best, especially when under the formidable vocal skills of Jessica Havey. Havey is as good as anything Nashville has ever produced, and I state that willfully, with extensive knowledge of the eponymous talent that has emerged from the city. Havey embodies the masculine ferocity of Emmylou Harris, the subtle sensitivity of Alison Krauss, and the sheer stunning tone of Loretta Lynn in one. "Heaven's My Home," another ballad oozing with political libretto, and "Turtle Dove," the lightly strummed, bluesy closer, prove it. I welcome disagreements, but I am staunchly entrenched in that opinion. Yet Havey is only one piece in this puzzle, as the collective harmonizing, tasteful picking, and simplistic, powerful songwriting further infects this enticing travel bug of a record, from the Celtic, screech-buttressed party instrumentals "The Fox and the Bee" and "Domino Party" to the Tania Elizabeth-sung "Three Fishers," a haunting ballad plucked from the ghosts encircling the crisp, salty air hovering around many of Eastern Canada's struggling fishing villages.

Yet it is the referential ode to home that makes Migrations so uniquely meaningful to the educated whilst simultaneously accessible to those who have never been to Winnipeg or even Canada for that matter. You do not need to fully comprehend The Duhks' political symbolism and lyrical word painting to enjoy Migrations, because all it takes is a desire to travel, while always understanding that home, wherever it may be, is a sacred, important place. This album will solidify The Duhks' successful migration to bigger and brighter pastures.

JamBase | Winnipeg
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[Published on: 10/4/06]

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