'Moondancer' is the debut album from Canadian Roots-Swing duo 'Over The Moon'. Mostly written and recorded in their ranch set square in the foothills of Alberta's Rocky Mountains, the songs range from 40's western swing, Appalachian, old time country blues and contemporary Americana.
'Over The Moon' are Suzanne Levesque, vocals and bass, and Craig Bignell, vocals, banjo, guitar and percussion. Mutual friends adding extra guitar, accordion, fiddle, violin, Rhodes, lap steel, Wurlitzer and clarinet across the tracks compliment the sound.
The ten songs themselves are a mix of the duo's originals, co writes and a few covers, all arranged and produced by Craig Bignell and mixed and mastered by Aaron Young.
Opening track 'Strangers We Meet', written by Ray Hughes, ambles in on an acoustic guitar strum and banjo part before the arrival of Suzanne and Craig's unison vocals. Together, their voices have a timeless quality that suits this earthy music perfectly, weaving in and out of one another seamlessly as they swap lead lines. Bass, percussion and a little electric guitar subtly fills out the track, all beautifully arranged and recorded and it's a great introduction for the listener.
'House On The Hill' follows and is an 'Over The Moon' original and feels very autobiographical with its opening lines "Built in 1932 a little house for me and you, to start our family". Suzanne takes the lead vocal and puts me in mind of Rosanne Cash in both tone and narrative delivery of the song, which again is subtly dressed with clever instrumentation and accordion to the fore.
The third number in this opening trio of fine songs is perhaps the strongest on the album, 'Turtle Mountain', and is another 'Over The Moon' original. Telling the tale of the 1903 Crowsnest Pass disaster, known as the Frank Slide, the song enters on an ominous, archetypal banjo riff as befits this doom-laden story. Suzanne also delivers her finest, most strident vocal in my view, over a chugging, seesaw rhythm pushed along by the accordion and fiddle. Suzanne and Craig's voices join for the chorus, almost chanting the words out and the song then exits into a great fiddle solo, mirrored by a fiery acoustic guitar piece later in the song before building again to something of an ensemble finale. Both musically and stylistically, this track conjures up England's Folk-Rock legends, Fairport Convention and their evergreen version of the traditional 'Matty Groves'. Everything about 'Turtle Mountain' is just 'right',
'Over The Moon' breaks the spell and makes a stylistic change over into jazzy, swing territory and features some sweet vocal and instrumental interchanges, whilst title track 'Moondancer' nods more towards contemporary country balladry.
'You Don't Even Know' is back to swing territory before the rootsy, earthy 'By The Mark' appears. I imagine most people who are listening to the album will also be familiar with this David Rawlings & Gillian Welch song and 'Over The Moon' do a beautifully faithful version here - slightly less austere than the original but still intense and moving.
Craig Bignell takes lead vocals for the reflective 'The Hills Of Grey County', swingy 'Alberta Moon' and final track 'That's How I Learned To Sing The Blues' which somehow manages to infuse country blues with Parisian sounding accordion and Gypsy jazz guitar!
'Moondancer' does all that can be asked of a first album in showcasing 'Over The Moon's' song writing, singing and playing credentials. All of this is beautifully recorded, the songs are cleverly arranged, guest musicians are outstanding and the piece is wedded as a whole with the melding of Suzanne Levesque's and Craig Bicknell's voices.
More generally, I think the record struggles to maintain the impact of the opening three songs and whilst the scope of music covered again serves as a fine introduction to the duo, I prefer their more Americana/Roots sound to that of the lighter, swing numbers. However, as always, this sort of thing is always going to be down to personal listening taste and preference
So, all in all, 'Moondancer' is a real success and its home-grown, organic feel has the effect of whetting the appetite for their live show, where I imagine these songs will really sparkle.
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