The name changes, but it is basically the same guy: a young, white male singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar and a handful of clever and sometimes poignant songs that portray a fairly innocent, wide-eyed view of how love, humility and sincerity can survive in an otherwise indifferent, if not hostile America which, the singer believes, is losing its soul. He comes along once every couple of years from some place like Baton Rouge, Little Rock or Jefferson City and has all the markings of The Next Big Thing and draws flattering but unfair comparisons to Paul Simon, Harry Chapin or James Taylor. We enthusiastically root for the guy; we tell our friends about him; we go to his gig down at Riverside Amphitheater or Coon Dog Bluesfest and hang around to get his autograph. He might sell a few thousand records and might get mentioned in a few magazines, but he never quite lives up to the ambitious but unrealistic expectations that accompany his artistic emergence.
A few years ago this guy was Corey Smith, an Athens, Georgia native who sang charmingly sentimental songs about coming of age in a southern college town. Like most of the writers of this ilk, Smith has an endearing Everyman quality about him and his songs reflect a healthy skepticism that has yet to sour into cynicism. Unfortunately, like most other musicians of this type, Corey Smith never managed to break through to huge success, and consequently does not get to enjoy the perks of stardom that go along with it.
The latest version of this guy is Andrew Duhon from New Orleans. At the risk of sounding self-contradictory, I will cautiously suggest that Duhon just might break the pattern. He is a creative songwriter, a skilled guitarist, and has a pleasantly smooth voice with just the right touch of a honey-bourbon Cajun accent. He sounds good when accompanied only by himself on guitar or harmonica, but his sound is nicely enhanced when he is joined by Maxwell Zemanovic on drums and Myles Weeks on upright bass. His 2014 album The Moorings presents a refreshing array of lyrical and musical variations of the themes common to this sub-genre.
As much as I like The Moorings, my favorite song by Duhon, “Like They Used To”, is not on the album. I discovered it as a live take on the jaminavan.com series with Andrew accompanied by the aforementioned drummer and bassist. “Like They Used To” takes one of the most worn-out and clichéd idioms of American music and gives it a fresh makeover. The song includes a reference to a Buick Skylark. If you will kindly indulge me for a moment I will explain why this is profoundly significant to me.
It is no surprise that my son Stephen (@srbrown70) became an automotive engineer; there are mechanics on both sides of the family, so he inherited a double dose of mechanical genes. He grew up hearing numerous stories of the family’s vehicular acumen and automotive savvy. Stephen has joined the chorus of those of us who love to tell tales of the family’s most notorious cars and trucks:
Uncle Ted’s yellow Ford pickup, which could (and often would) outrun every cop car in Carroll County;
Uncle Mike’s Maverick, which never obeyed the speed limit, frequently went airborne, and inevitably famously ended up at the bottom of Buffalo Swamp;
The other Uncle Mike’s 1963 Chevy Nova, whose straight-six engine Mike rebuilt by himself in the driveway;
The incomparably badass Infiniti G35 that met its untimely demise when it swerved to avoid Mac Daddy, the elk-sized deer who used to lord over the woods alongside Oak Grove Church Road;
The immortal 1991 Escort, affectionately known simply as “The White Car,” which has over 330,000 miles on the original engine and transmission and still runs like a Swiss watch;
Grandpa’s “Old Blue,” a vintage Ford pickup that quite possibly saw every single mile of every single highway between Lake Hartwell and Mobile Bay;
Stephen’s classic 1966 Mustang, into which he poured his blood, sweat and tears to return it to its original glory, and his brother’s 2000 Mustang, which has drastically outlasted all reasonable expectations in spite of its penchant for seeking out all the unmapped and unpaved roads of south Carroll County.
But perhaps the most treasured automobile in the family is a pristine 1970 Buick Skylark that my uncle Bill bought brand new for my grandmother, who—I am not making this up—literally drove it to church every Sunday, to the grocery store twice a week, and to the hospital where she often volunteered. My uncle, who was in the early years of his long and successful career with Buick when he bought the car, has maintained its cosmetic spiffiness and its mechanical integrity all these years. In spite of its grandmotherly appearance and background, the Skylark has a nice little secret. Under its innocent pale green hood sits a bulletproof four barrel 350 V-8 that will blow your freaking doors off. And if you don’t believe it, Uncle Bill will be more than happy to show yer ass.
Needless to say, Duhon’s Skylark reference in “Like They Used To” scored major bonus points from me. But even without the reference I would still love this song, and it is tonight’s featured video. Another Duhon performance I think you will enjoy is this rendition of “Sidestep Your Grave”, in which Duhon demonstrates his skill with slide guitar. Check out Andrew’s website: andrewduhon.com. He is on tour right now and might be appearing soon in a city near you. And if you show up to his gig in a Buick Skylark, your life will be perfect.