REVIEW: Emily Duff “Razor Blade Smile”

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Emily Duff — Razor Blade Smile

Former Del-Lords guitarist & now producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (electric guitars/slide guitar/vocals) seems on a roll this season with some exceptional artists. Pandemic be damned.

The elegantly & sophisticatedly attired Emily Duff (I’m being sarcastic) is an effective cross between Lucinda Williams, Iggy Pop & a biker chick. But one thing’s certain, she’s got the musical goods, she’s interesting & compelling.

It usually takes time to warm up to some artists, but this New York City-born Emily Duff (acoustic guitar) has taken a page from Williams’ songbook & while Lucinda pours Louisiana sizzle & bourbon burn throughout her melodies, Duff douses her showcase with a well-fueled attitude blended into cinnamon whiskey. The vapors are strong. The Williams pastiche is in Duff’s style but not necessarily always. Her own expressive music coruscates throughout the showcase.

Emily Duff

Her appearance is also a winner. Love the tough ragged hat, torn sleeves, denim & boots look she projects. As decorative as python skin. It effectively represents her music as genuine & feisty. Despite the tough exterior, some tunes are beautiful. “Angry To Bed,” “Another Goodbye,” “Don’t Hang the Moon” are finally, well-thought-out, well-articulated songs.

From the Byrds-like guitar tonality on “Angry,” — this songwriter chooses subjects seldom covered by the sugar-sprinkled radio-friendly country pop acts that leave the occasional cavity on the airwaves. Ms. Duff’s songs in the hands of Mr. Ambel leave teeth marks. “Moon,” is decorated with acoustic guitar picking. Duff’s shimmery sincere vocals aren’t cupcakes with filling but pastries with brandy.

Though the polar opposite in appearance from veteran singer-songwriter Christine Ohlman, Duff skates through the similar territory of Ohlman’s “The Deep End.” With “Razor Blade Smile,” Duff drives with 60s girl-group energy, adds a Jerry Lee Lewis piano thread, with grinding sausage-making machine lead guitar & punk-driven drums. I like this. This has balls. Duff’s voice is exceptional as a chiseled Shangri-Las (Mary Weiss) cum The Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”). “I’ll give you something to cry about…” aggressively added with a Patti Smith vocal tint. Clever.

“Feelin’ Alright,” & “Nicotine & Waiting,” is coated with Charlie Giordano’s accordion & humanizes the tough exterior of Duff into an instinctive ballad singer. She spins her tales like cotton candy & adds a side of beer with a sly wink. She could eventually sculpt her career into a female New York version of Tom Waits/Willie Nile hybrid. “Nicotine,” suggests that very premise.

The 10-track Razor Blade Smile (Drops July 23–Mr. Mud Show Music) also features Giordano on keyboards, Keith Christopher (bass), Phil Cimino (drums), Cory Nilsen (pedal steel guitar) & Mary Lee Kortes (vocals). 

 

The CD art & images are well-designed (one of the best this year). It suggests “pick me up” & look me over. Next time, include a lyric insert. Emily’s worth it.

Photos courtesy of Charles Chessler.

The 36-minute CD is available @ Bandcamp + https://www.emilyduffband.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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