Although it may not be apparent at first glance, there are significant similarities between Canada’s west coast and the swamps of Louisiana. Both are damp, mist-shrouded places where mystery is an almost palpable presence, where the world seems somehow older and utterly indifferent to human foibles.
Which may, in part, explain why “Ride,” the debut disc from Vancouver’s The Blue Voodoo, sounds as though it was recorded under the same hoodoo moon that shines on the swamps.
The Blue Voodoo are a trio; Rick Dalgarno contributes guitars, dobro, bass, and harmonica, Ted Tosoff handles guitars and bass, and Chris Weekes accounts for percussion and djembe. All three take turns at vocals, while various guests contribute fiddle, accordion, violin, mandolin, and harmonica.
Almost all of the instrumentation on “Ride” is acoustic, including the aforementioned percussion (in other words, don’t take that as a fancy word for drummer). It’s all mixed into a cheerfully inclusive gumbo with the result an utterly unique sound. The roots are in the blues, but this is by no means another collection of tired riffs shoehorned into a twelve-bar structure. There’s country and Cajun in there too, and the boys aren’t at all afraid to borrow the tunefulness of pop where appropriate.
Songwriting seems to be a collaborative effort, as no individual writing credits are provided. The tunes, most in a darker vein, flirt with the line between damnation and salvation, between desperation and a longing for grace. There are shades of Tom Waits here (or, better, Frank Morey), as evidenced in such lines as “I’ve got enough tequila in me to knock on her door / But after that I couldn’t do much more.” They’re songs from society’s underbelly, the territory of life’s losers who wish but don’t dare hope for redemption. Yet there’s hope, if only of a qualified sort; the disc’s closer, “South of orleans (shine on)”, with its anthemic refrain, doesn’t quite guarantee better days to come but at least holds the promise that tomorrow’s tale is yet to be written.
Arrangements, again credited to all involved, combine the kind of hooks that seem to sink deeper with each listen with intelligent allocation of resources, from the haunting strains of violin to the melancholy accordion. Mr. Weekes’ innovative percussion is an integral element in the musical tapestry, and Mr. Dalgarno’s guitar work is exemplary; witness his solo of breathtaking facility on “Bad News,” the tune closest to a straight blues, and the Spanish accents he employs to wonderful effect on “Blue Latin Moon.”
By no means a blues disc, there’s nonetheless much for blues fans to like here, and fans of either Tom Waits or his anointed successor, Frank Morey, will love it. All in all a top-notch effort, well worth seeking out.
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