Having heard his name mentioned in hushed tones increasingly over recent months, I eventually peeped Duke‘s music at the beginning of the year with some trepidation. He describes his sound as “Pop/Soul fore-sound with an element of ’80s Disco,” and cites influences like Prince, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Beyonce, Marvin Gaye, Cee-Lo Green and Earth, Wind & Fire. Upon reading those details, I was cynical, especially given the number of sometimes tepid “retro” 1980s throwbacks who have emerged over the past couple of years. In reality though, I needn’t have worried…
Duke is no cheesy Prince tribute act, but a formidable vocal talent, with some genuinely spectacular (and, much to my relief, not always “retro”) songs under his belt. “Face 2 Face,” the track that has gained the South Londoner considerable blog love recently, definitely falls into the aforementioned throwback category.
The drum patterns and synths are decidedly Cameo, and it’s heavily Funk and Disco in tone – in this case the ’80s influences are not subtle, nor just implied. That “Face 2 Face” succeeds where some of Duke’s peers have faltered is perhaps down to his quality vocals, which drift around the track with reckless abandon, effortlessly slipping into falsetto when called for.
Whilst I enjoyed “Face 2 Face”, “Return” was the song that made me a believer – the version on Duke’s Soundcloud page is a live recording; a stripped-back acoustic which allows his outstanding voice (and an exceptional song) to take centre-stage. Vintage only in the very best way, “Return” is a sweet, touching song, propelled by Duke’s rich and soulful vocals – six minutes of bliss that showcase exactly why he deserves our attention, free of any gimmicks or distractions.
Earlier this year, he dropped a cover of Coldplay‘s Grammy-nominated Mylo Xyloto single Paradise. Stripped-back, it’s instantly different, and somehow more personally captivating than the stadium-built original. Duke lays some tidy riffs over an acoustic guitar and hits those lush Prince-esque falsettos, once again demonstrating the sheer quality of his voice.
Much of Duke’s reputation thus far was built on the live circuit – unsurprising given he has some stage pedigree. At the age of 11, he landed the role of Simba in the West End stage version of The Lion King, and more recently played Michael Jackson as part of the Thriller Live show. He’s got a string of live dates coming up, including a full-band set at his own liv night in London, WIRED.
Given that studio material is sparse, I’ll definitely be checking out this very promising soul voice live whilst I wait eagerly to hear more.