Red Moon Road is a characterful if mildly eccentric Winnipeg trio who deliver a remarkably full sound that often sounds more like a larger band. This owes much to their consummate ability as multi-instrumentalists (Sheena Rattai on piano and snare, Daniel Jordan on guitars and bass drum, and Daniel Péloquin-Hopfner on banjo, mandolin and pedal steel), while the abundant energy of their delivery is no doubt derived as much from the individual members' diverse musical backgrounds (funk, jazz, metal, big band) as from their dynamic personalities.
The musical idiom they inhabit can be generalised (albeit somewhat unhelpfully, I admit) as a kind of rootsy, pop-folk-flavoured Americana with gospel undertones. The dozen tracks are all originals; half involve the compositional talents of Daniel Jordan, and even these span the widest channels of the genre, from the easy-rollin' Planting Trees and Words Of The Walls (a celebration of a famous apartment complex in Winnipeg), to the dreamlike, atmosphere-laden ambiences of Crashing Down. The other Daniel is responsible for the pacy autobiographical Breathing Slow, the quirky Rivière (sung in French) and the riveting and beautiful mythological narrative Cassiopeia. All three band members had a hand in the philosophical Fables, while the limpid reflections of Seasons (one of the disc's highlights) come from Sheena's pen. The latter is also one of a handful of tracks that benefit from the presence of guest musicians, for all that they're used sparingly; it's a string quartet (The Fretless) in this case, but also lending a hand on the album are Michael Jordan, David Travers-Smith, Jeremy Rusu, Alex Campbell and Julian Bradford, variously playing organ, clarinet, accordion, percussion and upright bass.
The most curious thing about this album, though, is the unevenness of its impact on me. I find a good number of the tracks intensely captivating, often also charming and very satisfying, and the disc opener is one of the most stunning of album openers that I can think of; Beauty In These Broken Bones (written by Sheena on an enforced layoff from touring due to a broken leg) is a pounding, full-on soulful gospel-tinged a cappella number, complete with beating, stomping and a passion-infused, spiritful contribution from an 18-strong choir!, that captures the feelgood catharsis of recovery from injury. On the other hand, there are two or three tracks which leave me cold, including Sophie Blanchard 1778, the true tale of an 18th century French aeronaut, whose floating waltzing cascades just feel artificial and cloying and for me rather undermine the tragedy of her story.
But let's end this review on a positive note - Red Moon Road have a great deal to offer, and my personal reservations regarding some of their material doesn't reflect on the quality of their writing or playing. And Sheena's one of the best Canadian singers around the roots scene, with a vibrancy and flexibility to her voice that you don't often encounter. The best of Red Moon Road is very impressive indeed.
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