The Duke (aka Rich Ward) is known for his work in the rap/rock outfit Stuck Mojo and, more recently, as lead guitarist and main songwriter for Fozzy, fronted by WWE wrestler Chris Jericho. The moniker "The Duke" came from some pretty high praise, when a magazine article wrote, "If Zakk Wylde [guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society] is the King of modern rock guitar, then certainly Rich Ward is the Duke."
Thus, music fans familiar with Ward's previous work already know that he's got a great, heavy, crunchy sound and rips on solos. And if those people are looking for that on this record -- or if other music fans are staying away from this album for those reasons -- then they'll be surprised to know that there isn't much of that kind of sound here at all.
Despite the powerful title, My Kung-Fu is Good is a songwriter's album through and through. Sure, there are portions of some tracks that contain the very distinguishable Ward guitar sound. But the album is, surprisingly, more frequently filled with another instrument: the piano (provided by Eric Frampton). There's one song entirely ("Breathe") where the only accompaniment to Rich's vocals are the keys. This is one of the main reasons why I would call this a "cross-genre" album.
Fans of Ward's previous work will no doubt find things to like on this record, specifically its heavier moments. But with the pop-like sensibilities of some tracks, and the inclusion of 70s-era soul with some talented R&B singers (most notably Allison Irby) throughout, Kung-Fu touches a lot of bases.
One thing every song seems to be is incredibly personal. You can feel it in the music, certainly, but it is mostly due to the lyrical content. The lyrics on this album are introspective and relatable, and certainly rival those of some of the best songwriters of our time. So much music in both genres (hard rock and pop) that Kung-Fu straddles is filled with throwaway lyrics, but every song on this album seems to have some sort of meaning and/or message. Whether it be personal experiences or his love and appreciation for the art he is able to create, The Duke of modern rock guitar allows his lyrics to make him vulnerable as a songwriter and a perform.
"You reap what you sow," sings The Duke on one of this album's tracks, Suicide Machine. Well, Mr. Rich Ward is sowing some marvelous music, put together in the best album of 2005 thus far, and hopefully he can reap the benefits and make a name for himself the world over. Spitfire has enough faith in him to use My Kung-Fu is Good as one of the major releases in their brand relaunch. Now it's just time for the music world to latch onto this great artist (and the musicians he surrounds himself with) along with those of us who already have.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)