CD: T@b, Thugs at Bay
Release date: December 2007
Mad Geniuses of the New Millennium
I’m almost on the brink of being
On the verge of being
Very nearly close
To bordering on the edge
Of doing what I really wanna do.
T@b, from ?On the Verge,? Thugs at Bay
The first time I heard T@b was at a live performance at the Sister Fair in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. Their music hit me like a surprise party. There was the serenely self-assured Ariana in her Olive Oyl stockings, singing in that pure, pitch-perfect voice, marathons of brilliant lyrics tripping lightly off her tongue, switching effortlessly between soprano sax and fiddle like it was music period at nursery school.
There beside her stood the jester Andy, simultaneously singing backup, playing guitar, and drumming (he plays the drums backwards, his feet working the pedals as his body sways in a canny, weaving two-step).
They describe their music as polymetric folk jazz, and yes, their music is polymetric; just try counting the different rhythms in one song. You’ll see.
There’s just something about a folk duo. Once there was Nina and Frederick, to whom I listened as a child after walking home from town, sliding down off a sugar high and wondering in despair why the world was such a vile, dim place. Nina and Frederick helped me decide that from then on music, not candy, would be my drug of choice.
Then along came Ian and Sylvia, exemplifying the true union of like-minded culture makers. I was similarly captivated by Makem and Clancy, Richard and Mimi Farina, and Simon and Garfunkel.
Then there were those flash-in-the-pan collaborations between Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell and James Taylor to show just how fragile musical collaborations can be.
Even the recent mockumentary A Mighty Wind has the virtue of featuring ?Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,? one of the most romantic love songs I’ve ever heard, somehow all the more moving because it is the tongue-in-cheek juncture between the fictitious Mitch and Mickey. (Moral: even a hokey folk duo is something worth rhapsodizing about.)
Like the equally necessary folk trio, the folk duo is a structure that dare not die. In the world at large the number of folk duos is at this moment burgeoning with a vengeance. With T@b it has been not propped up and resuscitated but ingeniously recreated.
Why would, say, a poet listen to T@b? Because this music is substantial and radically playful, simple and ripe with associations, intellectual and unpretentious, deep and light. Such music can help the poet get over the false sense of the weightiness of life while kindling her own creativity.
Then there are the atmospheres created by each song, atmospheres sometimes delightfully at odds with the song subjects. When Andy sings ?Bungee? in his Swiss German accent you feel like You’re at a 1920s Berlin burlesque show even though he is giving a riveting play-by-play of a terrifying bungee jump.
?The Market Song? has a cabaret feel despite being a hymn to the local farmers? market. ?The Moon and the Tide? is a corny lounge ditty with the deceptively simple lyrics of the best jazz songs. I could go on and on.
Calling their music polymetric folk-jazz, as unwieldy as that sounds, is still the tip of the iceberg lettuce leaf; try polymetric-folk-jazz-gypsy-klezmer-torch-lounge-noir-cabaret-children’s. But I’m probably leaving something out.
Thugs at Bay manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it confronts, rebukes, and mocks existing injustices; 4) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 5) it is about attainment of true self; 6) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; and 7) it stimulates my mind.