In the Bamboo Forests of Pennsylvania
The earliest incarnation of Coconut & The Duke equated to "Coconut" Joseph Maurer and Lucas "The Duke" Stangl jamming in a dorm 15 years ago. However, it's unlikely anything they were doing at the time resembled their latest release, In the Bamboo Forests of Pennsylvania. The liner notes credit them with playing mandolins, guitars, basses, "Dukuleles," accordions, keyboards, percussion, and singing vocals, not to mention that various friends make even further additions. In the Bamboo Forests is a peacock in comparison to six-string dorm sessions. Still, there remains that impromptu element. Coconut & The Duke create music largely by writing segments, swapping them online, and then building a garden salad. The band operates this way out of necessity. It's only half-local. Coconut lives in Eau Claire and The Duke in Pennsylvania. This is all immediately apparent. The echoing mandolin on opener Venison Jerky is staggered into timid hand-drums, claves, and earthly vocal harmonies that wonder: "where does the time go?" On the other hand, some of Bamboo Forests is well puréed. Venison Jerky melts away into the instrumental Intro before contorting itself again in the title track. Later on, Vitamin Y introduces, against all odds, a sax solo to a bouncing cabaret theme. Bamboo Forests' discombobulation might also be attributed to the general absence of a drum kit played familiarly. Most of us are used to a prominent rhythm instrument adhering a song. And so, steering clear of the temptation to include some Buddy Rich wannabe, In the Bamboo Forests means to break popular rock norms. The duo cite eclectic mock-rockers Ween as an influence on their refusal to be just one band. Motel Maids moseys around with a southern darlin' mandolin reminiscent of Blue Sky Boys. For prog fans, the duo wander the nearly eight-minute 3rd Night, letting the song "have a mind of it's own" (as the mantric lyrics go) and entirely reinvent itself two or three times before 'oommm'ing to a close. The Duke mentions that they grew up on folk and jazz, but there's a surf song, a country ballad, a reggae tune and even a spaghetti western ode present on In the Bamboo Forests. Coconut & The Duke sing in a subtler manner than most singer-songwriters. While Astral Weeks is certainly influential here, neither member overstates à la Van Morrison. Coconut & The Duke allow their voices to slither through the gaps between strums, creating a simple lyrical tone that emphasizes lyricism. Occasionally matching one another's melody, they hesitate to drive further north or south of a speaking voice. But staying true to their unpredictable nature, they do allow some room for choir-like glory. In it's ambitions, In the Bamboo Forests takes risks and falls short at times. The dominating chorus of Honeydipper drags minor back and forth like a hypnotist's pendulum all over an otherwise gorgeous mandolin lick. Sometimes the record simply lacks a good hook (A Memory and a Nap), or a passage of that goofy spoken word doesn't bide well. For myself, these moments are few enough to overlook. A safety catch in covering so much ground on one disk is that everyone will like something, even if nobody will like everything. On their homepage, the band refers to the short, instrumental interludes sprinkled throughout the CD as "palette cleansers." Coconut & The Duke deliver by increasing the weight of their music's diversity. The band's artwork is not only a reflection of the music itself, but also shares the band's political style. The artwork is created in collaboration between Coconut and another Eau Claire artist, Lori Chilefone. Thus, it seems a tour featuring Coconut and Chilefone is more likely than one featuring Coconut & The Duke. Chilefone combines anachronistic figures with Native American emblems and the geographical. In some images, we see Greek statuettes dressed in gowns of corn or strawberry swimsuits. In another piece, a pied piper dances along the shores of lake superior trailed by his wind-blown scarf. Coconut's art splices clippings of drab American frontiers, agreeing with Chilefone's explorations of placement. Together, these juxtapositions make for a fitting visual component to the whole Coconut & The Duke package. - words by Ted Waldbillig for Volume One Magazine Bruce Warren from WXPN in Philadelphia says this about the debut album: '...this record is strangely fascinating. It has an overall vibe to it that reminds me of old Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks, Geoff & Maria Muldaur's 'Brazil,' and yes, damned me for saying this, Jimmy Buffet. Maybe if Daniel Johnston was a parrothead, but hey, this ain't Margaritaville, my friends.' Vin Scelsa of SiriusXM and WFUM played the title track on his show 'Idiot's Delight'. Bio: Joe Maurer and Lucas Stangl met at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin in 1995. Since that initial jam session in Joe's third floor dorm room, Coconut and the Duke have been making music together. Joe is trained as a Landscape Architect and Artist. He lived and worked in this capacity in New York City and New Jersey until he burned out on the East Coast. He currently resides in Eau Claire, Wisconsin with a studio space overlooking the Chippewa River. Although waffle-cut fries are Lucas' favorite, he will occasionally tolerate a batch of regular-cut French Fries. It is this cuisine suffering that inspires him to make music.