Saturday, July 27, 2019

Blue Moon Marquee: “Bare Knuckles & Brawn” (2019) CD Review

Every day, the racism of a certain segment of our nation’s population becomes less and less bearable. A third of this country, whether they admit it or not, whether they recognize it or not, are fascists. People are becoming uglier and uglier as they give voice to their most twisted thoughts, as they celebrate their worst qualities. The news is depressing. So we turn to music for a little escape, for a reminder of what humanity can be. Bare Knuckles & Brawn, the new release from Blue Moon Marquee, is a total fucking delight, offering us some swinging jazz and gypsy blues numbers, all original material. Blue Moon Marquee is the Canadian duo of A.W. Cardinal on vocals and guitar, and Jasmine Colette on upright bass and vocals. Joining them on this release are Darcy Phillips on piano and organ, Jerry Cook on saxophone and clarinet, Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger on drums, and Jack Garton on trumpet.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Big Black Mamba,” featuring a great, rough vocal delivery and some delicious work on piano. “I asked for water/She brought me gasoline.” Those touches on horn have a classic sound and style, which I appreciate. All the elements of this track work to pull me out of the current hellish reality, and into some alternate world, where problems are not insurmountable, and everyone is kind of on our side, a world I want to spend more and more of my time. It’s a very cool song. Things then start swinging with “Smoke Rings For My Rider.” Oh man, the horns have a big band flavor right from the start, which is wonderful. And I dig that cheerful, delicious bass line. Then those vocals come at you straight from the coolest movie never made, you know? And that lead on horn is perfect. This is a great number to get you dancing, and is one of my favorite tracks. “Fever Flickering Flame” has another catchy rhythm, and some wonderful stuff on keys. There is some kind of joy to this music, and it seems to be inherent to the style, even as the songs touch on some serious subjects. It is in the very pulse of the music, and if you let it pull you in, you can’t help but feel some of that joy yourself. And I just love that little moment on bass toward the end.

“Hard Times Hit Parade” comes on all sly and sexy, emerging out of the smoke of a city street at night, some place where you might meet poverty or death. Jasmine takes lead vocals on this one, and there is something almost a seductive about her vocal performance. “Play the fool/Go on, spend all your time/Cursing out the other guy/Who laughs when it falls apart.” This track features some nice work on organ. Then A.W. Cardinal offers his own enticing vocal performance on “As I Lay Dying,” the song from which comes the album’s title. “She brings me flowers, fresh and wild/She lays them down by my side/She rests her hands onto mine/And tells me that the world will be just fine.” That’s followed by “High Noon,” which kicks off with the drums, sounding like they’re leading into a wild big band number. This track has a totally groovy and cool rhythm, and is a whole lot of fun. There is a wonderful lead on guitar. Then the horn comes in like from some western frontier saloon, and spirals around, moving the air and our bodies, controlling us like a snake charmer.

“The Red Devil Himself” offers lighter, delicious fare with some wonderful jazzy stuff on guitar. Paul Pigat joins the duo on guitar on this track. I think it would be incredibly difficult to listen to this song without smiling; try it, let me know how you do. “Well, I’m going away/Everything wrong going on around here/Well, I just can’t stay.” Those of us in the habit of using our brains in the United States often find ourselves asking, “Won’t someone tell me how long will this trouble last?” Well, it seems that great guitar work on this track will help push the troubles into the past. We’ll be dancing again! Things then take a bluesy turn with “Big Smoke,” which is about the fires and floods resulting from climate change. Check out these lyrics: “Well, there ain’t nobody here to save you now/I said, lord lord lord/Lord, I’m so tired/I said, Lord, lord, lord/Lord, I’m so tired/Well, the lord told me/Yeah, well so am I.” Oh yes, we’re all exhausted at this point. Sometimes it feels that optimism has died under the crushing weight of our current problems, but music continues to give me hope.

Jasmine sings lead on “52nd Street Strut,” and I’m not sure which is cooler, her voice or those horns. They work together to create another of this disc’s highlights. This tune has a ridiculously cool vibe, and it just gets better as it goes. “Hold my fur coat/While I beat ‘em both/New Orleans jazz/Backing drum track.” That instrumental section will make you a cooler person just from listening to it. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it. Oh, those horns! That’s followed by “Wayward,” another groovy number that takes you for a ride in its backseat. “Don’t you try and stop me/Don’t you fuss or fight.” Ah, I wouldn’t think of it! The disc then concludes with “Lost & Wild,” a late-night tune with some classic vibes and more enjoyable work on piano. “Lord knows I’ve got no answers/Not once have I heard reply/All I know for certain/There’s an angel in your eyes.”

CD Track List
  1. Big Black Mamba
  2. Smoke Rings For My Rider
  3. Fever Flickering Flame
  4. Hard Times Hit Parade
  5. As I Lay Dying
  6. High Noon
  7. The Red Devil Himself
  8. Big Smoke
  9. 52nd Street Strut
  10. Wayward
  11. Lost & Wild 
Bare Knuckles & Brawn was released on July 19, 2019 here in the United States (and on June 28 in Canada, because Canada is just a better place).

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