The loss of two integral members is typically enough to spell doom for a band, but the Duhks manage to come away from just such a loss without too much internal bleeding on Fast Paced World, their first album following the departure of drummer Scott Senior and frontwoman Jessica Havey. With siblings Sarah and Christian Dugas filling those vacancies, the progressive roots band have produced another diverse set of songs that incorporate their bluegrass, Celtic and rock influences into a unique style that places them at the frontlines of modern acoustic music.
While Havey—with her gritty, blues inflections—is a real force of nature and a hard act to follow, Sarah Dugas is quite impressive in her own right, and her deliveries fit within the band’s aesthetic. On cuts like opener “Mighty Storm,” “Sleeping Is All I Wanna Do” and the French-language “Toujours Vouloir,” her powerful performances land somewhere between Kelly Clarkson and the Gossip’s Beth Ditto—hardly bad company to keep, in that she balances pop polish with a genuine soulfulness. Her brother’s contributions aren’t quite as seamless a fit: Their use of aggressive, driving percussion is something that has always distinguished the Duhks from their contemporaries on the roots scene, but Christian Dugas’s drumming is placed near the foreground in the mix on “This Fall” and “You Don’t See It,” which detracts somewhat from the accomplished playing of returning members Jordan McConnell, Leonard Podolak and particularly fiddler Tania Elizabeth.
Still, that’s a relatively minor concern for an album that finds an established band attempting to move forward with a new lineup and actually succeeding in doing so. Perhaps what’s most impressive about World is the way that Sarah Dugan’s songwriting on fully half of the songs matches the band’s eclectic style. Though the title track is too didactic to work as a would-be protest anthem, her jazz-inflected “This Fall” is one of the highlights of the set, holding up alongside standards like the traditional “Mighty Storm” and Podolak’s and Jonathan Byrd’s country-leaning “95 South.” And, as always, their instrumental cuts are among their finest work, with “Adam’s 3-Step” and “New Rigged Ship” both showing the exemplary technical skill that is expected of a band of the Duhks’s profile and the kind of limber arrangements that allow for inspired improvisation. Already an easy band to root for because of their commitment to reducing environmental waste while on tour (their official website outlines their “Sustainability Project” in full), the Duhks should only continue to build upon their reputation as one of the most compelling acts on the roots scene with World, which puts to rest any doubts as to how they would carry on with their new incarnation.