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The recent collapse of the Borders Books & Music chain became much more understandable to me when I visited the half dozen or so locations in my area during their last week in business. In each store, I discovered around a dozen compact discs by The Dutchess and the Duke remaining on the picked-over music shelves.
It was puzzling, to say the least. In what reality were the music buyers for Borders living, that they would stock their shelves so deeply with The Dutchess and The Duke? Not ours, unfortunately. If their handling of this particular band was indicative of their general mindset, the people in charge of acquiring music for Borders let their own apparently impeccable taste in music cloud their judgment of America’s taste as a whole and paid the price for that overly charitable assessment.
Speaking for myself, I’d love to live in a reality where Borders’ faith in the American musical preference was justified and where overloading the CD racks with The Dutchess and The Duke’s brand of bluesy psych-folk was a sound commercial decision. But alas, we don’t, and discovering dozens of discs by the band in the emptying shelves of a dying retail chain was a wtf? moment of the highest order. On top of that, not only did Borders go the way of the dinosaur, but The Dutchess and The Duke had actually preceded them into oblivion, packing it in a year before the company that apparently had tremendous faith in their commercial potential did.
If we lived in the reality the Borders music buyers believed we inhabited, it would be headline news that the Duke – Jesse Lortz – is back with a new solo project called Case Studies. The people of America would be hanging on every word Lortz sings on “The Eagle, or the Serpent.” We would all be thrilling to the contrast between Lortz’s vocals, which recall Dylan’s weird Nashville Skyline voice, and the sweet female voices arrayed behind him like a madrigal chorus. Across the nation, Americans would marvel at the skillful arrangement, the way additional instruments are subtly introduced behind the strummed acoustic guitar until there’s a full band playing by the end of the song. “The Eagle, or the Serpent” would be in the mainstream, not a song by a cult project by the survivor of another cult project.
Sadly, the reality in which Jesse Lortz is a major star is not the one we live in, as Borders discovered too late. But mistaking major talent for major commercial potential is at least a noble blunder and the music buyers for Borders should be applauded for that. In a better world, those Dutchess and The Duke CDs should have flown off the shelves and not still been sitting there forlornly as the stores prepared to shutter for good. The advance buzz for Lortz’s work as Case Studies would have been deafening.
It’s not that world, though. But at least we still have Lortz recording songs like “The Eagle, or the Serpent” to dull the edge of that harsh reality.