Almost two years ago, the members of the Duke Spirit released their debut, Cuts Across the Land, peeking their heads from behind heavy velvet curtains and beckoning us into a dark, smoky room for a cigarette and some whiskey. But for that album’s follow-up, Leila Moss and her cohorts are strutting, not lurking, and they’re no longer in the bar. Neptune, though recorded in the vast emptiness of Joshua Tree, California, is rife with references to the ocean and water-bound ephemera.
Moss’s trademark sultry and honeyed voice again cuts through torrents of jostling guitars, bass and drums; she’s a mermaid with dirty jeans. The desert sensibilities of Chris Goss (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age) are the beach to the Spirit’s sea, grounding their sound with a more polished yet still defiant rock ‘n’ roll swagger.
Neptune shows that the band is not a one-trick pony. They’ve added a bit of soul and some brass to their guitar-heavy identity, accentuating Moss’s already magnetic voice and persona. If Neptune is her king, her muse might just be the more earthly Etta James.
Instead of rushing to put out a second record, the band toured nearly relentlessly, and the sweaty cohesion that playing every night and the shoulder rubbing proximity of a van comes together on this record. It’s tighter, and incredibly, more intimate and intense than the first, this is a band that functions as a whole, not merely a threadbare net of musicians straining to support the singer.
Perhaps an odd choice to bury in the middle of an album, “This Ship Is Built to Last” might have done better as a triumphant closer. The band members refer to this one as their “victory song” and between the guitars that grab your hips the voice that grabs your ears and the lyrics that grab your mind, the Duke Spirit looks like it’s may last, indeed.