Marshall Ford Swing Band,
It's About Dam Time
(independent, 2010)

That's not damn time, people. Not too many bands name themselves after water-diversion projects, but if there's no Marshall Ford in the Marshall Ford Swing Band, there used to be a dam called Marshall Ford -- long since renamed after an otherwise-forgotten politician -- on Lake Travis, an artificial body located west of Austin, Texas. Austin happens to be home to the MFSB.

In common with other rooted American genres, Western swing, a popular regional music that attracted occasional national attention during its heyday in the 1930s and '40s, is undergoing something of a renaissance. Western swing blended then-current pop, jazz and blues with older southwestern folk traditions to create an enchanting urban-rural dance music and, along with it, bandleader-stars such as Bob Wills, Milton Brown and Spade Cooley. On one level, It's About Dam Time is unapologetically resurrectionist; yet it manages, too, to sound gratifyingly fresh and contemporary. I think that's less in the arrangements, though they are exemplary, than in the performances, which are joyous.

Dam Time also lays claim to a spectacular vocalist (also a piano player) in Emily Gimble, whose grandfather Johnny Gimble is ranked among the greatest of Western swing fiddlers. Emily Gimble, who sings in a wholly natural, unforced manner, has such a distinctive style that it would be difficult to mistake it for anybody else's. It's a startlingly pitch-perfect fusion of honkytonk and jazz, the like of which is rarely encountered in this world and to be treasured if one is so lucky. There is also the gorgeously infectious twin lead-guitar sound of Greg Harkins and Jeremy Wheeless, not to mention the airy, amiable rhythms of drummer James Gwynn and upright-bassist Kristopher Wade.

We haven't even gotten to the songs and tunes, 14 of them, nary a miss in the bunch. They comprise the occasional expertly crafted original by Harkins, Wade or Wheeless, plus an assortment of discerningly culled older material, most of it fairly obscure. "Old Joe's Hitting the Jug" (learned from a 1936 Ink Spots recording) is dangerously close to heart-stopping fun. Even warhorses like Irving Berlin's "Marie" and tradition's "The Girl I Left Behind Me" run anew along Marshall Ford's dam. Ride, MFSW, ride.

music review by
Jerome Clark

24 July 2010

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