Being perched atop a cliff can be a mixed blessing. It can leave you with a tenuous feeling and fill you with dread that you might slip and fall. But it can also provide you with moments of real clarity and offer a vantage point some never get to experience. That seems to be where we find Red Moon Road with the release of their full length debut. The real, telling move will be their next one. Will they continue to climb or will they fall?
Red Moon Road is a mostly charming excursion down the rock/folk path. The album offers the listener some great instrumentation, impressive lyrics, and enough variety to keep things interesting. You get the feeling this band is going somewhere, although a definitive flight path has yet to be filed. And while there are some good signs here, I for one feel the band has yet to hit its full stride and may even be playing things a little too safe.
“Do or Die” is the opening track, and comes across as part battle theme, part rallying cry. Sheena Rattai’s vocals are pleasant although not as forceful as the subject matter might dictate. The interplay of the guitar and banjo works nicely here, as do the piano and background vocals. I think I’m hearing a stand up bass – which is a nice touch – in the song. The instrumentation does the trick by helping to build the tension and set the scene. This tune leans more toward folk, stylistically speaking. I like that the sound comes through as clean as it does, and the straight-forward approach serves the band well.
The next song, “Where My Heart Is,” has more of a country feel to it. Acoustic and steel guitars combine for a nice sound on this track, and Rattai gives us a plaintive delivery akin to something Jewel might serve up. The subject matter revolves around longing, a (more or less) universal theme to which we can all, at times, relate. It’s an easy number to listen to with a somewhat haunting quality, and shows off the strengths of the band without being overbearing.
“Private Love” gives the listener a chance to hear what one of the “Daniels” in the band (Daniel Jordan and Daniel Peloquin-Hopfner join Sheena Rattai in making up Red Moon Road) has to say musically. I’m not sure which of the two handles the lead vocals, although given the writing style I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Jordan. After all, Daniel Jordan is the nephew of famed Winnipeg entertainer Peter Jordan, known in music circles by his stage name Rocki Rolletti. For those not familiar with Jordan/Rolletti, the style of music often leans towards the comedic. The line in this decidedly country flavoured song, “I got a woman who likes to come…” is what had me wondering if the elder Jordan’s influence was at play. The tune itself reminds me of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennesse Jed,” and that’s a good thing.
Sheena Rattai again handles the vocal reigns on “Come Home,” a mellow, countrified folk number. The instrumentation does not overreach, and in this case keeping things simple works well. It’s a good story song, and both stylistically and lyrically speaking puts me in mind of Joni Mitchell. It’s very easy to get drawn in to this song, and therefore is a triumph for the band in my opinion. This is, so far, my favourite tune on the album and a solid effort through and through by the band.
“Liesel Friedl” is the closest thing to an honest-to-goodness folk tale on this disc, and had me wondering if the song was about a relative of one of the band members (named Liesel Friedl) until I figured out it was the names of the horses she and her younger brother rode away on toward the Iron Curtain to escape the Soviet Red Army. The drumming on the song is crisp, and rolls along nicely with the mandolin and violin each pulling its own weight. The lyrics spin a yarn of escape to a new life across the ocean. I hope it’s a true story, as I tend to be a sucker for those kinds of tales.
“Why He Left the Ocean” again features strong lyrics and is another example of a good story song. While there is, on the surface at least, a nautical bent to the number, it speaks to the universal theme of self-discovery. The weaving together of mandolin, guitar and piano serve the tune well. It’s a song more suited to an intimate audience and setting than it is the big stage, but that’s part of its charm. This tune is well crafted and works in part because it is given a respectful – almost reverential – delivery.
Just to show off its musical chops and Daniel Peloquin-Hopfner’s heritage, Red Moon Road gives us “Qu’allons-nous faire?” which translates roughly in English to “What are we to do?” It’s one of those examples where you don’t have to understand the language it is sung in to enjoy it. The song has a great feel to it with some heart thumping instrumentation and solid vocals. You can hear guitar, fiddle and what sounds like banjo helping propel this tune along. While it is a lively number, I think a more elongated fiddle solo would have helped to further elevate this one.
The final track on the album, “Hypothetical Girl,” comes across as a fun bit of country twang. However, it’s so close to something Randy Newman might have come up with that it would probably fit perfectly as the theme song for the next Pixar movie. That isn’t to say it isn’t without merit. It’s great to hear the vocal range from the male singer, and it’s practically impossible to hate a song that has a kazoo in it. There’s a touch of Honky-tonk piano in there for good measure. The album finishes on a strong note thanks to “Hypothetical Girl.” At the very least, it leaves you smilin’.
This Winnipeg-based trio has done a number of things right with this release, not the least of which is give would-be listeners some welcome variety. Red Moon Road has a lot of strengths, although I don’t think they’ve yet scratched the surface of what they have to offer. All of which leaves me thinking there is a good future in music ahead for this band. That’s not to say there isn’t room for growth here. It’s a little early in the game to advise this group to stick to one path or another, and over time it may be better if the band tries out a number of potential routes, musically speaking.
This is a good, honest effort from Red Moon Road, and I think they will build a solid fan base as they go. The trick will be to experiment without losing sight of the band’s musical roots and to keep doing what makes the three members happy. That joy will spill out off the stage and into the audience, and make the road ahead of them a pleasure to travel.
Top Tracks: “Come Home;” “Demons;” “Hypothetical Girl”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good) +*swoop*