Review – Twilight Hotel – “Highway Prayer”

If you like your music nice and neat and fitting within a particular predictable genre or style, then stay far, far away
from Canadian roots-rock duo Twilight Hotel.

Brandy Zdan (vocals, electric/acoustic guitar, accordion) and Dave Quanbury (vocals, electric/acoustic guitar) hail from Winnipeg on the Eastern edge of the prairie region of Western Canada (eight hours north of Minneapolis via 9513).  I don’t know much about the region, but if Twilight Hotel’s new release “Highway Prayer” is any cultural barometer of the area, it seems to be chilly, desolate albeit fertile terrain.

Twilight Hotel are no newcomers to the game. After recording their first self-titled LP in 2003, Zdan and Quanbury have been a hot item in Canadian roots circles and have played more than 200 North American dates in 2007.

Highway Prayer finds Zdan and Quanbury putting all those dues paid on full display as they artfully craft a pan-American
world placed somewhere between Andrew Bird’s jazz-gypsy-folk and and Johnny and June’s soulful-earthy duets. Halfway between the cafe’ and the roadhouse. The stories on “Highway Prayer” unfold like a dark map of the heart and carries on the fine folk/country tradition of storytelling from the point of view of those inflicting or bearing hardships.Recorded in Nashville, TN, Highway Prayer, features noable guest musicians including the late Richard Bell (Janis Joplin, The Band), Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits), and Dave Roe (Johnny Cash).

Things blasts to life with “Viva la Vinyl,” a rave-up-scat-duet ode to the joy of analog music recordings which sounds as joyous and as impromptu porch jam session with plenty of sour mash being passed and hoisted.

On “No Place for a Woman”  MS. Zdan belts out a reverb-draped lament about a family’s rough life in the coal mine. “Impatient Love” is a yearning duet that highlights the couples harmony and shimmers in it’s beauty. The title cut takes us out to the dark, desolate dirt roads made familiar by Neko Case and is made even more forbidding by Richard Bell organ work.

Slumber Queen is a a hard-coiled chacha in the gypsy-jazz vein of Andrew Bird and Iowalta Morningside follows hot on it’s trail with a chilly night-life narrative that Nick Cave would be proud of. On Shadow of a Man Zdan moves us into the gritty junk yard baroque jazz were Tom Waits reigns supreme and she does a fine job of marking her territory.

As mentioned before Richard Bell, the Canadian musician perhaps best remembered as the pianist for Janis Joplin and her Full Tilt Boogie Band, lent his considerable talent to what was to be his last work and “Highway Prayer” is made even more spectacular because of it. The last track Best Buds showcases Bell and dobro player Colin Linden is a great testament to the man and his talent.

 Twilight Hotel- Viva la Vinyl


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