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Apocalyptic Blues

New King Dude “You Can Break My Heart” single reviewed
by Oliver Sheppard

King Dude’s new two-song single is amazingly retro. I loved Love (pun intended), King Dude’s 2011 release that made CVLT Nation’s top neofolk LPs of 2011 list.

“You Can Break My Heart” is a more stripped-down, Leonard Cohen-esque approach to songwriting.

In many ways, King Dude’s 2011 Love LP was a modern, Americana-tinged “neofolk” release a la Of the Wand of the Moon and other great recent neofolk bands. Love was a back-to-basics, haunting, Appalachian, and explicitly American take on the neofolk genre. It was pretty great.

Or — maybe it was never neofolk at all. Maybe it was simply creepy acoustic, Southern, 1950s style Southern balladry. “Lucifer’s the Light of the World,” a song off Love, is a track I have been drawn to repeatedly since last Fall, a new classic of whatever genre one wants to put it in: Dark, southern neofolk? I was reminded of Nick Cave and David Tibet of Current 93’s collaboration for All the Pretty Horses, the neofolk album inspired by southern Gothic writer Cormac McCarthy. The new King Dude single is a melancholy slice of dark American roots music, and it reminds of Leonard Cohen as much as Death in June.

So, as someone who was born in Nashville, Tennessee — in the same Baptist hospital that Johnny Cash died in, actually — I have always loved Roy Orbison, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins — and all the classic Sun Records, crooning balladeers. And this new King Dude single fits squarely in that tradition. Admirably so. Dark, echoing, contemplative, mournful; a man and his guitar, pouring out his soul. “You can break my heart, but not the rest of me.” I can imagine it being played in a truckstop in Mississippi.

I have to admit, I have never been too fond of the name “King Dude” — it reminds me too much of something like “Kid Rock” — but, the stripped-down, gloomy, mournful, despondent tones wring from King Dude’s guitar, combined with the broken-hearted lyrics … it’s very good. In fact, this single should make folks re-analyze whether they want to consider King Dude to be an American neofolk act, like Luftwaffe or Cult of Youth, or a new Southern Gothic. I don’t think this new single is really neofolk. I think it is just simple mournful American balladry of the sort 16 Horsepower and other have tried to recapture.

So, if you want to call the new King Dude single a “neofolk” release, okay. And the recent psychedelic songs from Of the Wand and Moon (“We Are Dust (No Yule This Year My Love)”) is actually kind of similar to some of King Dude’s stuff. But it is not the sort of neofolk that puts one in the mindset of proudly watching Nordic fighting vessels sailing off to sea in Europe circa 1500. Or anything European. This is the sort of music you put on when you are draining 750ml of Jack Daniels at a cheap roadside motel in Alabama after your girlfriend has left you. And, trust me, this Southern boy has had some experience with that. This new King Dude single is the perfect soundtrack.

You can buy King Dude’s new single here.

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