Exalted Lover

One look at the retrofied cover photo and you know you’re cruisin’ in the right neighborhood for a good old-fashioned heapin’ helpin’ of home-style rhythm and blues bruisin’. In the classic album cover tradition of Jonah (I Dig Chicks) Jones and George (Burnished Brass) Shearing, we’re presented with an uncorked bottle of primo cheapo vino in front of a plastic bouquet of roses while a leotarded vixen with gams up to here flexes a wango-tango stranglehold on a guitar neck. You know what I’m talkin’ about: It’s the kinda kitschy image that’d hold the patent on processed cheese if Kraft hadn’t gotten there first.

And speaking of cheesy, I’m pretty sure that Duke didn’t intend this album to be a parody of an R&B album, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt because Exalted Lover is a good-times encapsulation of the genre over the years, with a sonic dash of Sun Records seasoning thrown into the pot for good measure.

Speaking of which, that Duke has a voice which sounds like Leon Russell being possessed by Dr. John while spending the night in a drunk tank only adds to the overall cathouse ambience.

But if you don’t believe me, just listen to him Leonize on the title track, whose sultry narcotic music sounds as if it were inspired by either a Walker Brothers album or Eno’s Music For Opium Dens. However, the honey shot comes halfway through when this female voice suddenly pipes up outta nowhere to coo sweet je t’aime nothings into Duke’s ear, as if she were Jane Birkin or something. But that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.

And so is “I’ll Never Be Free,” Duke’s tongue-in-her-cheek duet with Slammin’ Pammy Tillis, which positively reeks of classic ’40s hollow-bodied smoky nightclub evampiration. Besides, how can you possibly find fault with a guy who has the bluesy, ballsy wherewithal to sequence two song titles like “Deep Inside” and “How Long Has It Been” back to back? Think about it.

Of course, as any culture vulture will tell you, the best satires succeed by being able to accurately ape the original source material they’re skewing. In which case you have nothing to worry about because Duke’s Exalted Lover has some of the sharpest blues stylings you’re likely to hear this side of Beale Street.

And I’m not whistling in Dixie, either, because she’s not that kind of girl.

E-mail Jeffrey Morgan at [email protected].

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