The 20s and 30s were a very different time for music. It was a time where many a blues legend made it big, from Robert Johnson to Blind Lemon Jefferson. The era of the blues had its heyday, and it’s always had its odd revivalist every now and then. Montreal singer-songwriter A.W. Cardinal and his backing band show that Canadians can do the blues just as well.
What makes the A.W. Cardinal band a little different is the fact that it’s a band. Blues players in the 20s struck it solo, with just their guitars. While Cardinal has some help, it doesn’t make his music any less legitimate. His guitar-playing is very reminiscent of those booming blues times, and it’s refreshing for once to hear guitar playing that is intentionally rough-sounding.
Cardinal even embraces the ethic of song lengths of back then, with most songs on this very quick album sitting between two and three minutes long. That being said, the songs feel complete.
Cardinal’s guitar-playing is naturally front-and-centre, and it helps to establish mood, such as calm and breezy in “Hangin’ At the Bottom” or slightly more melancholy like in “Sin City.” His voice also helps to carry each song.
But again, the album isn’t all about Cardinal. The backup instruments aren’t always immediately apparent on first listen, but certainly notable. Jasmine Ohlhauser provides both bass and some great backup vocals, while Christopher Donnelly brings in some welcome piano and organ, most notably in the slightly spooky song “Driftin’.” Ryan Lundy also keeps the beat with some faint percussion.
To hear the apex of Cardinal’s guitar-playing, check out either “Moon Gone Down” or “December Rain.” The album ends nicely with “Shading Tree,” which showcases better than any other song Cardinal’s pleasant singing voice.
There really isn’t anybody doing what A.W. Cardinal is doing right now. Check out the album on Bandcamp, and it’s a name-your-price download to boot.
Top Tracks: “Driftin'”; “Shading Tree”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)