"My Kung-Fu Is Good" (Spitfire; 2005)

Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I was glad to learn that Rich Ward's alter ego, "The Duke," was culled from a tag by a reviewer in a German music magazine, rather than any idolization of the overrated iconoclast John Wayne (all of you punk obscurists sing along with me in irony to MDC's "John Wayne Was a Nazi," will you?) If you know the name Rich Ward, you'll certainly cough up Stuck Mojo and Fozzy. Bear these entities in mind but for a split second when approaching The Duke's My Kung Fu is Good, and then promptly abandon them. If you're expecting the rap metal mania of Stuck Mojo, there are miniscule traces. If you're expecting the syrupy heaviness of Fozzy (who adept pupils will note is related to the WWE's Chris Jericho), forget that altogether. This is not to say that The Duke is wimp rock, but you will undoubtedly need to give it a few chances before passing it off at face value. It's a personal soul-searching endeavor by Rich Ward, who sticks to conventional pop-oriented hard rock in the vein everything from 3 Doors Down to Nickelback to Everclear to even Journey, and even that's not being fully accurate. It is an eye opener, that's for sure, as it must be for Ward himself.

On the opening number "I Give to You," Ward tells us "I don't wanna be a star, don't wanna be your god, we came together 'cause you see it too, when the sun is in my face, the best part of me is in the music I give to you." As he explains in his liner notes, Rich Ward has some personal demons to expel and expel them he does. Obviously constrained by whatever demands his musical life has shackled upon him, these songs from "My Kung-Fu is Good" unchain him purposefully and melodically.

With tender lyrics, rich vocals and tempered guitar solos that serve the emotions of the songs instead of merely showing off a repertoire of chops, Ward creates an album that allows his listeners inside his microcosm, be it the dawning realization of self-killing on the riff-heavy "Suicide Machine" or personal reflection through the soft tones of "Summer" and "Running." Call it Rich Ward's private therapy session made public. When the final query of "What will it take to see me for who I am?" it sounds like a love plea on one side, but in the end, Ward answers his own question by opting to live in the moment and find a meaningful direction. In many ways, Ward could've opted to put the peppy pop pleaser "Back to You" at the end of My Kung Fu is Good as it represents a lifting of his personal haze, lyrically and musically, but it's all good. The sequencing of the tracks is obviously as delicate to Ward as the tracks themselves.

Consider this a warning that The Duke is going to sock you one hard if you're expecting it to be a metal juggernaut. It's not. What separates Rich Ward's pop plying from Top 40 radio flirts is the fact that has songs possess conviction and they are bloodletting fragments many of us struggling to reach a higher standard in our lives can relate to. If it takes hooky, friendlier-sounding vehicles to reach this objective, so be it. Rich Ward consulted a musical sensei that set him on a different path and his kung fu is definitely good. Go in peace on your journey towards introspection, brother ...

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02 Oct 2022 15:00:07 -0400.