The Duke & the King draw their nom de plume from two characters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and they derive much of the downbeat tone of their debut, Nothing Gold Can Stay, from Simone Felice’s recent, not-entirely-amicable departure from the Felice Brothers. The record finds Felice and Robert “Chicken” Burke on an ambling journey of grifting, lost love and misspent youth. Felice, for his part, can spin one hell of a yarn when he wants to: “Union Street” is a gripping portrait of urban rot, while “Summer Morning Rain” impresses for its disaffect. The album’s most clever moment comes in the one-two punch of its opening tracks: The sense of longing conveyed by the narrator on “If You Ever Get Famous” is answered by the you-get-what-you-ask-for tone of “Morning I Get to Hell,” which boasts an old-timey reverb in its production that is appropriately ghostly. Nothing Gold Can Stay would be a more interesting album if a larger percentage of its atmospheric production flourishes added the same kind of structural depth found on “Morning” or if those flourishes gave the album an even more diverse sonic palette. But for the peppy “Still Remember Love,” the album’s dreary midtempo shuffle becomes monotonous just a few tracks in. It doesn’t help matters that “Lose Myself” and “I’ve Been Bad” both repeat just a single line for the duration of their respective running times. However much mileage the album may gain from its relative minimalism, those tracks smack of self-indulgence. It’s a shame, really, that the tedious production and a couple of dead-end experiments pull focus from what the duo actually do well, but it’s a testament to the sheer quality of songs like “Union Street” that the album is still worth a listen. When Felice and Burke show a bit more restraint and keep the focus on the storytelling, Nothing Gold Can Stay works as a compelling, soulful folk record.
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