Old time music gets intimate kitchen treatment

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April 13, 2013

Slim Sandy and the Hillbilly Bebop
Yes, Baby, Yes! (2013)
Produced by Jonathan Stuart

Reviewed by Yasuko Thanh

My favourite definition of the blues goes like this: blues are nothing but bad times that have a good man down. But he can still sing about them, even laugh, down at the bottom of the well.  My second favourite definition compares the blues with gospel: the blues is what you sing on Saturday night, gospel’s what you sing on Sunday morning.

Slim Sandy, a long time practioner of both, launched his latest album Yes, Baby, Yes! at the Martin Batchelor Gallery in Victoria on April 6. Like many Victoria musicians, Sandy has another life. His is as a cultural worker, artist and teacher. Another name, too. But that’s another story.

The intimate setting of the gallery, nestled between a tenement house and a hair salon on Cormorant Street, gave the event a down-to-earth aesthetic. There was space to dance in the centre of the gallery, and every seat was taken.

Slim Sandy plays as a solo artist or with a rotating cast of musicians. Local drummer Rad Juli, keeping rhythm on an old suitcase, accompanied him at the launch. So did his wife Willa Mae on washtub bass, wearing a Western shirt, hair dyed red to match. “There’s a global phenomenon of people interested in the old-time music and recreating the fashions and style,” Willa Mae says. “For me the music is the center of that and what drives the whole thing, and if a song has a good dance beat then I’m attracted to it.”

Five of the six songs on this album are public domain, which means, like sunshine or clouds, they belong to everyone. Slim Sandy’s philosophy of ever-changing band members also speaks to the inclusiveness of the music.  Sandy decided to record live in the studio. “The musicians from Marshal Scott Warner’s band are real pro and could just jump right in there. Recording live with no overdubs keeps the feel of a live show.”

What emerges is a sound that could be recreated in someone’s kitchen. It showcases the creative collaboration and connection between people.  Willa Mae’s sultry harmonies in “Up Above My Head,” a gospel song originally recorded in the 1940s by Sister Rosetta Sharpe, made me want to sing along.

“I think harmony singing is magical, a kind of sharing,” Willa Mae says.

Another of the album’s highlights is “Meet Me By The Moonlight,” otherwise known as “The Prisoner’s Song,” because it tells the sad story of a man going to prison, and pining for his lost love. This Carter Family signature was first recorded in 1928, and various incarnations of it go back as far as 1826.

“When I was young, I listened to my father’s 78 records,” Sandy says. “Artists like Louis Jordan, Fats Waller, and Slim & Slam left a deep impression on me. But I also love a lot of 50’s rock and roll, and started going back in time to listen to 30’s 40’s music, like Billie Holiday, and hillbilly singers like Gene O’Quinn and the Delmore Brothers.”

The album features great thwacky doghouse bass by Tony Laborie, of Seattle’s Western Bluebirds, and Nick Streeter on guitar, whose sound is reminiscent of Scotty Moore.  From the album’s fun, tongue-in-cheek title to the last song, prepare to hit the floor with your dancing shoes–preferably hardwood that bows when you two-step.

Yasuko Thanh has been short-listed for this year’s BC Book Prize in fiction.

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