Blue Moon Marquee – Bare Knuckles & Brawn
CD: 11 Songs, 40 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Horn Blues, Swing Blues, All Original Songs
Upon reading the title Bare Knuckles & Brawn, from Canada’s Blue Moon Marquee, one might expect a CD full of hard-driving numbers that prove Saturday night’s all right for fighting. Imagine this reviewer’s surprise on finding eleven original songs that bring back the big-band sound of the 1940s, complete with horns, ragtime beats, and lead vocals reminiscent of Louis Armstrong’s. The lyrics also hearken to earlier days, expanding upon song names such as “High Noon,” “The Red Devil Himself,” and “52nd Street Strut.” Those who prefer their blues on the raunchier, meatier side won’t find much to chomp on, but those who like it smooth and hot will simply adore this album. It’s also great fuel for inspiration in quiet moments, meant to silence mental chatter and let one’s thoughts flow.
“This album, to me, represents a combination and evolution of our last records,” says front man A.W. Cardinal. “I believe it features some of our best recorded work, and we were able to do it with some of the best possible musicians.” Bassist and vocalist Jasmine Colette adds, “We recorded [it] in three days. I like all the grit and pulp with my music, so the warm sound of the tape made it come together. All the songs were written…in the last year of our travels, in relation to the air of the times, characters we meet, cities we walk in and the weather we feel.” Blue Moon Marquee currently makes their home in an island shack on the coast of the Salish Sea in British Columbia.
Joining Cardinal and Colette are guest musicians Darcy Phillips on piano and Hammond B3; Jerry Cook on tenor sax, baritone sax, and clarinet; Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger on drums; Jack Garton on trumpet; and Paul Pigat on guitar for “The Red Devil Himself.”
“Big Black Mamba” starts things off, a unique meditation on the snare of fossil fuels: “I asked for water; she brought me gasoline. That’s the meanest gal I’ve ever seen. Big Black Mamba, you got me moaning low, dirty mis-treater from the stars of Texaco.” Up-tempo love ballads “Smoke Rings for my Rider” and “Fever Flickering Flame” follow, guaranteed to make even the dead rise from the grave and dance. Cardinal’s guitar is cardinal on both, a prime example of his instrument of choice conversing with listeners via musical notes. “Hard Times Hit Parade” slows things down, the perfect background music for a film noir scene. Dig Darcy Phillips on his Hammond and the melancholy horn solo, echoing in one’s ears like a night breeze.
“As I Lay Dying” contains the album’s title in a pithy piece of lyrics: “The world was built [with] bare knuckles and brawn.” A.W.’s vocals are at their Armstrong-iest here. Earworm “High Noon,” according to the band, “is a reference to Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Lakota people and the perseverance of Native peoples.” The next two tracks will make guitar lovers swoon, especially “Big Smoke” for traditionalists. “52nd Street Strut” is a rat-a-tat tribute to Billie Holliday, featuring Jasmine Colette’s velvety voice. “Wayward” and “Lost and Wild” close things out, with the final song wistfully bringing “What a Wonderful World” to mind.
Blue Moon Marquee has demonstrated that their name should be in lights once more with the classic sound and big-band bravado of Bare Knuckles and Brawn!