After several years, I am glad to be the bearer of great tides—Mike Duncan has released another album! I have played his Lost For Words album over and over, because it was refreshing, original…and well, great. But his new one, Am I Here, is even better. With the passage of time, Duncan has strengthened his gift, his craft, bringing a balanced offering of romantic songs that range from emotional to kicky. With his unique voice he delivers one powerful performance after another.
He is a true artist, painting on a canvas with masterful strokes, and nowhere is this more evident than in the title track. I was privileged to hear the original version several years ago, which quickly became my favourite song. Seriously, if I were marooned on a desert isle and only permitted one song to keep me company it would be Am I here. It’s a deceptive song that seems to seep into your muscles, your mind, and like a drug alters my mood. The song works on several levels. It has a laid back beat that underscores the emotions of a tormented romance; it’s sensual, provocative, it’s painful. Such deep emotion is threaded throughout the song that is simply haunting. Since this song came along after the first album, I was dancing with joy when I found it had made the cut this time.
Lost For Words, title track of the last album, is also here, but in a different version. The original was a ballad, and again such an emotional song. Anyone in love couldn’t help but be touched with the beauty and power of these lyrics. Later he recorded another version – a club remix that had a killer beat. The two versions evoke a remembrance of when Eric Clapton took Layla from solid rock to the laid back acoustical version (which I loved more). Both stood on their own, drew their own praise. It was the same with the two cuts of Lost for Words. The strength of the song is clear in how it’s so amazing in either presentation. This time, the new production is back to the ballad, but with a broader professional polish. And again, I am lost to this song.
The most moving song of the group is My X. A blunt title for a brilliant song. And again, a song of love. It is the exposed, raw, pure emotions of a man in love and the love gone sour. It’s produced to showcase Duncan’s unique voice, and he applies it full force to convey the heartbreak from the true love, of a man fighting for himself and his love, yet senses the hopelessness of it. You don’t just hear this song, experience it, all the pain regret and anguish, and it plays inside your mind, full of images like the best rock video you ever saw on MTV. You taste the sheer agony, the desperation, the images of lovers coming together, yet being torn apart, and the overpowering fatal enormity of not understanding why the love cannot work. Incisively produced, the song packs a wallop.
My second favourite song of all time is also included on the album. Yes, it’s that good. Oceans of Time is a dreamy, almost mystic version of love, of need. Instead of being a song of pain and regret like My X, this is a fantasy. The man senses a deeper love is out there, he can sense her waiting, and the power that will drive him to fight to find her. It’s the best side of love, the desire, the full knowledge that someone waits for you, and there is no obstacle that will prevent you from finding her. Duncan’s voice is never more perfect than in delivering this emotional song. He hits the notes on all levels.
Also included is a cover of I’m On Fire. Okay, how dare he cover one of the Boss’ biggest hits? He dares with his own performance that almost rivals Springsteen. I know I will get boos and hisses for that statement, but sorry, it’s true. Upfront, I am a music junkie—I have been rocking in the free world for too many decades. I love everything from Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Second Waltz to the Kinks’ Well Respected Man, The Brothers Four, Justin Haywood, Sam the Sham,— lol— John Melancamp, Bon Jovi and everything between. I love music so much from all eras, that a friend once asked me if I had ever been a disk jockey! Truly good music is a drug to me. It can totally alter my mood. When it works that magic I know it’s good. I say love a song, love every note, every change in pitch, to the point I basically hate covers. They just leave me flat. No one can match or improve on the brilliance of the original, often not even the performer himself. One of the best is Bon Jovi—his studio tracks are never as good as his live performances. Duncan is one of the few exceptions to that no cover rule for me. In I’m On Fire he pays nodding homage to the untouchable talent of Springsteen, yet as I listen to the song, I began to forget the original and it feels new. Duncan’s version begins to eclipse Springsteen’s version in my mind. Very hard to do.
The up tempo Everything Is Good makes me want to get up and dance. The happiness it generates is infectious. Once again, the song underscores a romance, but a more positive one this go around. Wonderland (not the Taylor Swift song) it an opening gambit of a romance. It’s challenging, provoking, pushing the limits of love. The power and force of Duncan’s voice demonstrating his masterful range. Love You Even More is a mellow enticement to love, with a Michel Bublé style, but, in truth, Duncan’s voice is just a bit sharper, more unique than Bublé. I have heard him cover Bublé and liked his version better. It’s Bublé class, but with a raw, edge that makes Duncan special.
Please Love Me is another rock tempo well suit to Duncan’s range. I recall Sinatra talking about it wasn’t just singing a song, but how you phrased the lyrics. Fiction writing (my area) and song writing has much in common. Both are another form of poetry, and in both, phasing is so important. It’s not just the words, it’s the syntax, the flow, the meter and the sound that rolls over you and works magic. Duncan’s quiet genius is he truly gets that. The album rounds out with You, a mellow song that strikes a subtle contrast to the other emotional songs. A perfect edition to a well-conceived album.
In a day, when music seems angry or edging
back toward bubble gum, it’s very satisfying to hear an album that is geared
for romance in all its forms. A pleasure from start to
finish. Don’t accuse me of gushing over this album. Not
one word is unearned. I am just sorry the world hasn’t made the same
discovery of Mike Duncan as I have. If there is one word of
criticism—I would have liked to have the original of Am I Here included
in the album, since I love both versions!
—Deborah Macgillivray, Internationally Publishing author, and unabashed music junkie.