In their Facebook bio, Whiskey Moon Face describe their music as “original rag and bones jazz blues folk tuuunes!” which, while it gives an indication of their eclectic sound, in many ways doesn’t even begin to cover the full range and diversity of this three-piece London-based band – nor their astonishing workrate. Lead by Louisa Jones (singer, songwriter and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist) with Ewan Bleach on clarinet and Jim Ydstie on double bass, they took just two days to record the thirteen songs of their debut album One Blinding Dusky Dusk, plus a further nine tracks for a companion EP, The Echo of Me Shoes.
Thankfully, this frenetic pace has had no impact on the quality of their music, which is of an impressively high standard throughout, both in terms of musicianship as well as writing. While jazz, blues and folk are indeed all present, surfacing and disappearing throughout the album, to my ears there is also something of the feel of the musics of the Romani and klezmer traditions of Central and Eastern Europe; the classical dhrupad style of Northern India as well as music from around the Celtic diaspora (Quebec as well as Ireland). But at no time does the listener feel that she is listening to a grab bag of cultural appropriation whose target demographic is the hipster cliques of east London, or the result of some esoteric ethnomusicological experiment.
Whiskey Moon Face make music which is far more than the sum of its parts and effortlessly transcends any potential accusations of pastiche. The core trio and its various guests (fiddle player Alistair Caplin, violinist Mirabelle Gillis, trombonist Sky Murphy, drummer John Blease and songwriter and banjo player Sam Bailley) are clearly all highly skilled musicians, but the listener never feels that she is witness to a display of virtuosity for the sake of it. The arrangements are tight, yet deeper listening reveals an interplay between the performers which at times seems almost telepathic, a sure sign of musicians who not only listen to what each other is playing but for whom the songs are of far greater importance than the individual.
Throughout, the music itself is performed with assurance and aplomb, and one is left with the overriding sense of hearing atmospheric and heady music that lives and breathes. This in itself is a rare and precious thing in these days where a bland and formulaic commercialism, imposed by career-minded record company executives, too often makes the rules and this evident enjoyment is a defining feature of the band, which sets them apart from many of their peers. Consequently, uptempo numbers, such as Yellow Fingernails and Pirates, will have you dancing around your living room while more reflective tunes like Light and Limehouse De Reverie allow time to catch your breath. The end result of listening to One Blinding Dusky Dusk is akin to having been at one of those wild and joyous youthful parties in somebody else’s parents’ house that you’ll remember for years.
Review by: Helen Gregory
One Blinding Dusky Dusk is Out Now via Smugglers Records