Hwy 11 Records
10 songs – 33 minutes
Based in the northwest corner of Ontario not far from the Minnesota border, Canadian songbird and keyboard player Sunday Wilde and her bass-playing vocalist partner Reno Jack have been performing in venues ranging from funeral parlors to small logging towns to big cities for decades, delivering their own intimate take on the blues.
They’re fearless when it comes to putting a new spin on familiar tunes, as they demonstrated in their 2007 release, Black Pearls Of Wisdom, and continue the practice on this album, which was long awaited by fans and which also contains two originals.
A powerful singer with a distinctive, honey-sweet delivery, Sunday has five other albums to her credit, most recently 2016’s Blueberries And Grits. Among her other trophies, she’s captured six Ontario Arts Council Grants for songwriting and performance, and one of her tunes topped the B.B. King Bluesville chart at SiriusXM. She’s influenced heavily by artists from earlier eras, including Big Bill Broonzy, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ruth Brown, three of whose tunes are covered here.
Her vocal stylings mesh well with Reno Jack, who possesses a weathered baritone. A multi-intrumentalist who can double on upright bass, keyboards and guitar, his background includes stints with The Handsome Neds, a very popular country band based out of Toronto, Herald Nix, a rockabilly ensemble whose credits include serving as an opening act for The Clash, and High Lonesome, an award-winning hillbilly jazz group.
They’re joined here by drummer Cleave Anderson, harp player John MacLeod and guitarist Steve Koch, all of whom were Neds. The album was mastered by Peter J. Moore, who won a Grammy for his work on Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. The material blends blues, country, folk, gospel and pop.
A little vocal hook from Sunday opens a redo of the Howlin’ Wolf/Willie Dixon classic, “Howling For My Darling,” receiving a completely new, lighter feel. Wilde swings from the jump vocally and puts a sweet spin on a tune full of sexual innuendo. Next up, a tasty Koch solo opens as Reno Jack takes the lead vocal with Sunday providing the response in a take of Ruth Brown’s “Love Contest,” a number penned by Charlie Singleton of R&B group Cameo fame.
The country-flavored “Van Horne” is delivered atop a propulsive railroad beat before “Moonlight Rising,” a slow blues with Jack at the mike. Sunday reinvents Brown’s familiar, hard-hitting “5-10-15 Hours” into a slow swinging love song with Reno doubling her vocals before the Wilde original, “Back Lane Man,” which brings her keyboard skills to the fore. A slow-walking blues, it describes a relationship in which the singer started with money in the bank but wound up broke after discovering he’d been cheating with her sister.
A bass line kicks off a duet of Sam Cooke’s “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day” before the only other new tune here, Wilde’s “No Matter How Far.” Sunday shines on the mike here, accompanying herself in a slow blues that sings praise to a man who always understands. Another Brown cover, “I Wanna Do More,” before a new take on country legend Webb Pierce’s “Leaving On Your Mind” draws the action to a close.
Available through most online retailers, Two isn’t for folks who want their blues modern, electric and in-your-face, and Reno’s vocal range is fairly limited and his delivery is deliberate and worn. And, with few exceptions, the musicianship is pretty pedestrian. That said, if you’ve been a fan of Sunday or the duo in the past, this one will play perfectly for you.