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The near demise of the highwire dancer
(Black Wolf Records)

(Above: Antje Duvekot performs Vertigo from her new album, with Meg Hutchinson, Anne Heaton and Natalia Zuckerman in December of 2008 at Charlottesville's outstanding Gravity Lounge...)

The sophomore jinx. We've seen it a hundred times, solid and critically acclaimed first albums followed by an album which does not even come close. I worried about that. A lot. I have carried the Antje Duvekot torch since hearing her outstanding Big Dream Boulevard album what seems like forever ago and the last thing I wanted to see was The Big Letdown--- you know, when the new stuff slides under the old bar?

Well, I shouldn't have worried. Duvekot is fast becoming the pro and you can tell it just by the time spent between albums. The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer is no fluke. It is a well-prepared, well thought out album of old and new in just the right places. It is as good, if not better, than Boulevard--- well, let us say as good because I am not ready to lower that album's stature yet. There are highs on that album which major stars wish they could reach.

Richard Shindell steps in on Near Demise in place of Seamus Egan, who did a twelve-thumbs-up job on Boulevard, but Egan is not gone. He co-wrote The Bridge and Scream with Duvekot, solid favorites partway through just the first listen. In an album of great songs they stick out for me, but that could be a reflection of the reverence I feel toward Boulevard. That is not meant as a slam on Shindell, who has a touch all his own and not to the detriment of Duvekot and her music. They are no doubt on the same page and the album shows it.

Antje Duvekot writes excellent songs, but what really catches the ear is her voice. She has an alto texture and sounds almost as if she has a perpetual cold and I find it enthralling. She wraps that voice around every song she sings, as if that song was made specifically for her. Maybe that is what some people call phrasing, but I think it is more. There is soul in that voice. Depth.

The decision to include Merry-Go-Round caught me a little off-guard. Bank of America scooped it up for an ad campaign a few years ago and it didn't catch my ear (and yes, I do pay attention). Well, my ear should be shot (or maybe it is). A bit more upbeat and rock than Duvekot's usual fare, it has a full chorus which has me bouncing. Like hearing The Band on Big Pink only with Duvekot on vocals.

The other surprise is the inclusion of a children's song to close the album. Duvekot includes Augen, Ohren und Herz as a tribute to Gerhard Schone, a German composer of children's songs who Duvekot holds in very high esteem. She accepted his records as a child when visiting friends in East Germany and has treasured his music since. A quiet ballad played simply with just guitar and voice, it ends the album perfectly. An excellent choice.

It took me ten days to place Boulevard on my list of the best albums of 2007, the year I finally heard it (it was a 2006 release, but the gods were toying with me). I didn't have to wait that long this time. It slammed into my Top Five for 2009, leaving wreckage and carnage everywhere. Don't get me wrong. There are some excellent releases already this year, but I know that I'll play hell to find one quite like Near Demise.

Hey, here's an idea. CDbaby has a sampling system that is among the best. Why not skip over for a quick listen? You know what they say. One song is worth a thousand words...

The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer

Big Dream Boulevard


Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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