It is no wonder that Canada's Cuff the Duke opened for Blue Rodeo on a key tour, or that Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor is producing their fourth album. Like Keelor and his own bandmates, Cuff the Duke are one of those unbelievably talented bands that can jump genres like a game of hopscotch -- to the point where their music is almost undefinable except for the good ol' catchall, "alternative." Also like Blue Rodeo, they have a definite Canadian roots rock basis and a taste for the epic in their song structures.
Cuff the Duke broke onto the scene in 2002 with their debut, Life Stories for Minimum Wage, released on Toronto indie Three Gut Records. Critics praised the album, especially noting its maturity, which was ironic, as no one in the band (all originally from Oshawa, Ontario) was over 21 years of age. The group made their major-label debut in 2005 with the self-titled, Cuff the Duke. The album was the first release on fellow Canadian, Hayden's Hardwood/Universal imprint that didn't feature Hayden, himself. Cuff the Duke built up a tremendous cult following, especially on the college circuit, with this dark epic of an album. Critics hailed the intensity and timelessness of the songs, rightly identifying Cuff the Duke as a band working way beyond their years. Their live shows became a popular favorite and the Toronto Star raved that they "stole" the acclaimed Hillside Music Festival.
Early in 2006, Halifax's Dale Murray joined Cuff the Duke to play electric and pedal steel guitar (replacing original guitarist/Moog player/organist Jeff Peers) -- followed shortly thereafter by then Montreal-based drummer Corey Wood (taking the place of Matt Faris). With founding members Wayne Petti (lead vocals, guitar and moog) and Paul Lowman (bass, piano, fiddle, vocals), the band embarked on additional and extensive North American touring. Somewhere amidst all of that and several van breakdowns, Cuff the Duke managed to be part of an exciting, primarily instrumental band called the Hylozoists, led by producer/musician Paul Aucoin (co-producer of the early Cuff the Duke albums), whose La Fin Du Monde came out in the spring of 2006 on Boompa/EMI. 2007 saw the re-release of Cuff the Duke's 2002 debut, Life Stories for Minimum Wage, and frontman Wayne Petti's solo debut, City Lights Align, while the band entered the studio to begin recording their new album for Hardwood at the end of February. Released in October, Sidelines of the City was even more epic and ambitious than either of their previous releases. Alternating sounding like they are playing in front of stadiums to gigging at intimate club shows, the songs on Sidelines of the City are as shocking for their sprawling scope as they are for the number of genres they skip lithely across. Way Down Here arrived in 2009, followed by 2011's Morning Comes, the latter of which landed a Juno nomination. An EP of covers songs, In Our Time, appeared in early 2012, followed later that fall by the full-length Union. ~ Tomas Mureika