An engaging, soothing, and impressive album from Canadian roots duo Over The Moon.
Renowned multi-instrumentalists and singers Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignell have long been known as session and touring musicians for other artists. Levesque began performing at a young age with her family’s group, singing and playing bass guitar and double bass, and later worked with The Traveling Mabels, Gord Bamford’s backing band, and many other artists. Bignell made his name as a session drummer and picked up guitar and banjo quickly as an adult. As the Canadian acoustic roots/swing duo Over The Moon, they have created two fine albums of folk, country, Appalachian old-time, and western swing. ‘Chinook Waltz’ has a good balance of terrific covers and well-written original songs.
The name Chinook refers both to the Chinook First Nation, made up of five Chinookan-speaking tribes in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and also to the name of a warm, dry wind that descends the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The couple lives on an idyllic-sounding ranch in southern Alberta in the foothills of the Rockies. This rural domestic bliss, close proximity to nature, and the appreciation of simple pleasures is evocatively described on the album’s closing title track: “The first fire of the season, in the old wood stove / Warms you like a mother’s love / You’re glad for the cold.”
Levesque and Bignell are accomplished collaborators whose blended voices are truly exceptional. The opening track ‘Lonesome Bluebird’ features the sound of an 1898 English open back banjo given to them by a friend. Bignell says in the liner notes: “After having it totally refurbished, I tuned it, but not up to pitch, and started playing the little riff you hear on this song. I thought it sounded like a bird singing away on a spring morning. Suzanne was working on some lyrics at the same time, about a girl that was missing many of life’s opportunities because she was too afraid to just get out there and do it. Suzanne likened her to a bluebird that just sat high in her tree every day looking beautiful but never learned to fly.”
They have a deep respect for the history of their home province, which was evident on their debut album ‘Moondancer,’ and here they honor a former slave who became a pioneering Albertan cowboy on ‘John Ware.’ Even with such deep Canadian roots, they convincingly cover The Everly Brothers’ love song to The Bluegrass State, ‘Kentucky.’ ‘Someday Soon,’ sung by Levesque, has the same subject and sweet story line as Trisha Yearwood’s early hit ‘She’s in Love with the Boy’ and is carried by Levesque’s rich alto voice. It was written by Canadian music titan — and the duo’s neighbor — Ian Tyson. Tyson, as one half of the famous Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia, recorded the great ’60s Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell folk ballad ‘Darcy Farrow,’ which is also beautifully covered on ‘Chinook Waltz.’ The classic ballad about ill-starred young lovers in Nevada was later a hit for John Denver. Levesque also shines on ‘I Can’t Get Over You,’ with a powerful, simple acoustic backing. Originally performed by Buddy and Julie Miller, this one could easily have been arranged as an overproduced country-pop song.
‘They Can’t Black Out the Moon’ is a popular UK song from 1939 about the wartime blackouts, imagined here as a jaunty western swing tune, with the duo envisioning a cowboy serviceman from Alberta falling in love with an English girl during a blackout. They seem to genuinely enjoy singing together in general, but most definitely on this song. Their affectionate interplay is also a highlight of the tongue-in-cheek ‘I’m Not Cool,’ a deliberately uncool swing song sung by Bignell.
Levesque and Bignell are joined by talented musicians such as Roly Platt on harmonica, Bruce Hoffman on Dobro, Joshua Baca on Tejano accordion, and Keith Floen on piano, but their velvety harmonies stand out on every song, creating a mood of serenity and happiness. The album even ends with the ASMR-worthy, cozy sound of a crackling campfire and crickets singing in the background.