Blue Moon Marquee: Gypsy Blues
written by David Morrison 10 June, 2016
With a healthy domestic scene and over fifty festivals annually dedicated to the genre, blues is a really big deal in Canada. Favouring blues spanning from its earliest recordings to the 1960s I must be honest in saying I find most contemporary ‘white-boy’ takes on the form rather tiresome, but every now and then an act looking at the blues through a different lens comes along to shake things up. Originally from Alberta but now settled on Vancouver Island, Blue Moon Marquee is one such act.
Actually, I am not even sure it is fair or accurate to tag Blue Moon Marquee as simply a blues outfit. Although the blues is certainly firmly entrenched at the heart of this male/female duo’s sound, there is much more besides: jazz manouche, old-timey country, folk, ragtime and vaudeville all have their parts to play, which is exactly why I find them more interesting than the well-trodden path of 12-bar blues bores.
Blue Moon Marquee remind me of the wonderful work of C.W. Stoneking and Pokey LaFarge, musicians I imagine possessing record collections in which 78’s outnumber 33⅓’s, and are indebted to the popular music, style and even fashion of seven or eight decades back. This is also apparent of Blue Moon Marquee from merely the packaging of their third full-length offering, Gypsy Blues. Firstly, the lovely sleeve painting, Dancehall, by local artist Donovan Rose puts me in mind of African American folk artist Winfred Rembert’s Deep South speakeasy masterpiece, Inside Cat Odom’s Café. And inside the CD, the handsome duo are pictured in vintage threads, the images looking for all the world like the pair could have stepped out of the 1930s. Finally, most tellingly, included in the credits are Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Patton, Django Reinhardt, Memphis Minnie and…er…Danzig.
Formed just four years ago by A. W. Cardinal (vocals, guitar), a Metis of Cree heritage, and Jasmine Colette (double bass, drums, vocals), Blue Moon Marquee has gigged and recorded pretty much solidly ever since. They have popped up on almost every relevant local bill and have established venue residencies since their arrival on Vancouver Island a year or so ago, making a lot of friends in the process with their kickass live performances. On top of hundreds of shows, Stainless Steel Heart (2013), Lonesome Ghosts (2014), the 2014 4-song digital EP, Last Dollar, and now Gypsy Blues have all been delivered since 2012 as the excellent results of a work ethic I greatly admire.
This latest offering is Blue Moon Marquee’s best yet. Over twelve bluesy, jazzy, swingin’ nuggets ranging from head-nodders to stompers, with a waltz in there for good measure, no great lyrical ground is broken – with tales of the poor side of town, whiskey, beer, lost love, tough women, prison time, more whiskey and song titles like Pour Me One, Driftin’ and Saddle Sore – but it is a fabulous listen throughout. Cardinal’s powerful voice is a raspy roar with another huge influence, Tom Waits, stamped all over it, and his deft picking is one moment as soulful as that of Mississippi John Hurt, and reflective of the buoyant style of the great Reinhardt himself the next. Cardinal’s playing is grittier and a tad looser, however, but that is a compliment rather than a criticism, as it adds a real earthy edge to what is generally a cultured sound. His riffs are comfortably familiar, taking the templates of his heroes and working out his own melodies from those starting points, by listening hard and practicing endlessly.
Cardinal takes lead vocal on all but song, the sultry Ain’t No Stranger, on which Colette vamps it up in a song of gratitude for the kind of man she/the narrator has found to share her life. It is a sexy performance and a nice contrast to Cardinal’s guttural, both-barrels-blazin’ vocal attack. Mention should be made here of one aspect of Blue Moon Marquee’s popularity, being Colette’s solid, physical style of double bass playing, which is a treat to witness in a live setting. She rocks from side to side as much as her seated position will allow, eyes closed and lost in the groove, simultaneously playing bass drum and hi-hat with foot pedals, occasionally bashing a cymbal with her hand between bass notes. Who needs a drummer?
Recorded at Vancouver’s Afterlife Studios, produced by Erik Nielsen (bass player for the city’s roots rockers Rich Hope and Ben Rogers), Gypsy Blues is a firecracker of an album that, in the realm of contemporary blues, avoids certain clichés by incorporating the aforementioned influences. In that respect it ticks all the boxes for this fussy blues listener, but above all it is a testament to Blue Moon Marquee’s damn hard work, and as I write they are typically on another (40-date) North American tour, it would seem they have no intention of easing up any time soon.
Gypsy Blues is Out Now
Gray Owl Point Review:
Review – “Gypsy Blues” – Blue Moon Marquee
reviewed by Michael Thomas
The latest from blues outfit Blue Moon Maruqee is an album in conversation with their previous recordings. On their previous album, Lonesome Ghosts, they began referring to their music as “Gypsy Blues.” Now they have a new album called just that. Gypsy Blues is even talking with Stainless Steel Heart — an album that was out when they were still called A.W Cardinal — in the form of redone versions of the album’s “Shading Tree” and “Driftin.'”
Hearing the new version of these new songs (the latter is now called “Driftin’ Blues”) alongside their first iterations is instructive in showing how A.W. Cardinal and Jasmine Collette’s music has changed. Cardinal now sings with a rough growl that adds a certain intensity to some of his songs, and his songs place a greater emphasis on bluesy electric guitar riffs. The original version of “Shading Tree” almost sounds like a folk song; on Gypsy Blues it gets particularly fearsome when Cardinal sings the line about a raging bull.
As per usual, Blue Moon Marquee makes plenty of use of the 12-bar blues—right off the bat, in fact, with “Trickster Coyote” and “Hoodoo Lady.” Both songs feature a fairly simple idea (attraction to an alluring but dangerous lady) but with the former featuring a morphing image and the latter a static one.
The band switches things up often enough that the album doesn’t become stale. “Pour Me One” is especially exciting; you can almost tell right away that the song will be shorter because Cardinal is singing and playing faster, as though he’s trying to sing the blues in a punk style. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Ain’t No Hill” is nice and leisurely, with some lazy guitar licks slowly ushering the listener into a song with Collette on vocals.
If you’re on the lookout for fiery lyrics, look to “Runaway Lane” for brushes with death or “Double Barrel Blues,” where Cardinal implores you: “Gonna pull that trigger/Better pull it twice” and “Put your buckshot right in my side.” The easy bluesiness is the best part of their music; it never quite ventures into full on blues-rock, retaining a bit of folk and roots to make music that is simultaneously roaring and restrained.
Top Tracks: “Pour Me One”; “Ain’t No Stranger”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)
Canadian Beats Review:
Blue Moon Marquee brings us a sound like the old 1900 St Louis era with a deep rooted Rag-Time style album with hints of Jazz and Blues. The album called Gypsy Blues released on June 17, 2016. This album features the dynamic duo A.W Cardinal with his Raspy Rag-time style voice and jazz and blues styled guitar play and Jasmine Colette on her upright Bass that commands the attention right away from my listening ear and controls the feelings in me when I hear their songs. Both coming from The Rocky Mountain Prairies area in the West Coast of Canada, have such an amazing sound.
My favourite songs from this album clearly are “Trickster Coyote” right from the start. Singing the blues about relationships and drinking to get through the times. Another track is “Ain’t No Stranger” with the sultry voice of Jasmine Colette, it tells a story of acceptance and the journey that’s about to happen. Last but not least “Gypsy Blues” with lyrics that speak of one last chance and tales of mercy that A.W Cardinal pleads for himself on the song. This album also reminds me of the sounds in the back room pubs that filled the back alleys in the town where I’m from. I felt the command of these 3 tracks of the album.
This duo is extremely talented and easily comparable to the likes of Bo Diddley and Fats Waller and my favourite Blues artist B.B King. With the female voice comparable to Winifred Atwell.
Blue Moon Marquee 'Gypsy Blues' (album stream)
By Sarah Murphy
Published Jun 13, 2016
Vancouver Island-based jazz and blues two-piece Blue Moon Marquee are ready to release their new album Gypsy Blues later this week, but before it officially lands, you can get an early listen to it on Exclaim!
The 12-track record follows up 2014's Lonseome Ghosts album, and continues to showcase the band's penchant for blending blues, swing and ragtime influences into their own wild brand of original music. A.W. Cardinal offers soulful, smoky vocals and jazz guitar, while Jasmine Colette (a.k.a. Badlands Jass) contributes on the upright bass and vocal harmonies.
Their talents combine to create a unique and engaging listening experience. Immerse yourself in it by giving Gypsy Blues a listen below. The album is officially out on June 17 and you can see a full list of the duo's upcoming live shows over here.
B.C. Musicians Magazine Review:
By David Owen Rama
It can’t be more obvious how much Blue Moon Marquee are devoted to their musical journey. For a duo, A.W. Cardinal and Jasmine Colette (a.k.a. Bandlands Jass) are busy hauling an unusual amount of gear into the studio where I produce my radio show.
They are there to grace my listeners with a live performance, but a recent fire in downtown Nanaimo has blocked car access to the radio station, and without a hint of annoyance Cardinal and Colette calmly make the several trips to the upper parking lot and back down the steep concrete steps with calm dedication and good humour. And it’s this kind of steadfast devotion to musical performance that appears to be serving them well.
Originally hailing from the “wild rose foothills of Alberta” at the end of 2015 Cardinal and Colette made a permanent move to Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley after years of extensive touring. Colette explains the duo’s move to the west coast: “We were on tour for the past three and a half years, traveling all over Canada, and after all that we really wanted to stay put for a winter and just dig into the communities here.”
This they have done. With a dogged dedication to their musical vision, and a sincere love of live performance and collaboration, Blue Moon Marquee have spent the winter introducing themselves to audiences in the communities all over Vancouver Island. “We’ve been playing the small islands, farmers markets, house concerts, and our two winter residencies at the Vault in Nanaimo and at the (now defunct) Music Hall in Ladysmith. It’s allowed us to connect with a lot of local players,” explains the pint-sized one woman rhythm section.
With the album Lonesome Ghosts and the four song extended play Last Dollar serving up evidence of the band’s delicious blend of southern American blues styles spiced with early French jazz swing, A.W. Cardinal coughs up the other part of their winter plan. “We’ve also been working hard to get this new album recorded before we head out in June on our big summer tour.” Colette chimes in about the new record, which, unlike previous releases, they decided to record only as a duo, with no supporting guest musicians. “Our new album is called Gypsy Blues, which is kind of a style we coined. An amalgamation of gypsy rhythms and scales mixed with a solid delta blues influence.”
This hard working duo brings a multitude of flavours into their kitchen. It’s southern Louisiana meets the south of France, with nods to rockabilly, Romany jazz, rhythm n’ blues, early rock n’ roll, Dixieland jazz, and a variety of blues styles. The spirits of Memphis Minnie, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bukka White and many others haunt the musical offerings of Blue Moon Marquee.
A.W. Cardinal plays a Gibson hollow-body electric and barks out his blues over some impressive southern Djangofried grooves. Colette provides the rhythmic thunder along with some smoky backup vocals, which combined elevates the duo to a sound that is larger than the sum of its parts.
A stylish couple who embrace their style right down to their speakeasy fashion sense, A.W Cardinal commonly and playfully calls his partner the Hoodoo Lady in reference to Colette’s origins in the Alberta badlands. Hoodoo country. Holding down all the rhythm duties on upright bass and a foot powered custom drum kit. “I’m a tiny little lady, but I always have to find the biggest things to play.” She also possesses a confident voice and has spent many years performing with a host of Canadian talent and working as a traveling musical acrobat. “Like A.W. I started out singing and writing too, but I was always really drawn to the bottom end of the songs. I love anything with a lot of bass in it.”
A onetime solo artist, A.W. Cardinal spent time living and performing in both Montreal and New York city before he joined forces with Bandlands Jass. Cardinal’s traveling roots working on pipelines in the north and his Cree-Métis heritage sharply influence his song writing. With compositions like Sugar Dime from Lonesome Ghosts and Trickster Coyote from the new Gypsy Blues release, he admits his roots “weave themselves in there more than I’m actually conscious of. Stories of my mother and stories of our people. Native people have wonderful stories about everything, and I take a lot of inspiration from those stories.”
Their stunning new Gypsy Blues CD, co-produced with their engineer Erik Neilson at Afterlife Studios (formerly Vancouver’s Mushroom Studios), spills over with traveling songs, stories pulsating with adventure, heartache, redemption and love. Cardinal and Colette deliver the goods hot and heavy and smelling of Storyville brothels, old juke joints and lonely back roads.
Settled in and happy with their choice to lay down new roots in Vancouver Island’s beautiful Cowichan Valley, and relieved to have avoided another cold winter further east, Blue Moon Marquee have just hit the road yet again on another extensive Canadian tour. There’s no holding them back and they’re stoked that the swinging nuances of their songs have secured them appearances at some of our most prominent summer Jazz Festivals in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Victoria.
When you add up all their other tour dates, including stops south of the border, fans will see the duo traverse the continent twice over this summer. The tour wraps with appearances back home on the coast at the Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland BC and the Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival. Their final performance brings them to my own community on Gabriola Island, with an intimate finale at the Island’s Skol Pub on September 3.
As they prepare themselves to walk all their gear back up those steep concrete steps, and hit the trail again after an inspiring live set on the radio, Cardinal smiles at me and lets me in on the next item on this tireless team’s agenda. “When we come back from the tour at the end of the summer we plan to record another album, but this time with a band.” Without missing a beat Bandlands Jass pipes in, almost finishing the guitar man’s sentence, “and we’re going to do that album live, because we don’t want to do tracking with a band. Just live off the floor. That’s the way we like it.”
Originally published in BC Musician Magazine
"The night began with a rousing set from Alberta gypsy-noir duo Blue Moon Marquee. The pair cooked up a swamp-blues bouillabaisse, one that counted Tom Waits and late-era Bob Dylan among its key ingredients. And it did so with a flair for the atmospheric." - Victoria Times Colonist
"Their musicality is outstanding, their presentation is spellbinding, and their original songs are unforgettable. To me, they represent the real core of the folk blues tradition. They would not seem out of place if they were on stage beside Lonnie Johnson or the young Memphis Minnie. - David Vest (award winning legendary Blues pianist)
"Gypsy Blues plucks the danger from a Tom Waits melody, dances it a little further over the line with dark magic, teases the rhythms & raises a toast to back alley Jazz" - Canadian Music