It seems like an unlikely pairing: Grant Simpson (jazz musician, vaudevillian and musical director of the Frantic Follies for over 30 years), and Kate Weekes (young hippie, folksinger and member of the traditional country swing trio Home Sweet Home).
He plays swing and ragtime, tickling ivories in the style of Fats Waller, while she models herself after Joni Mitchell and Nancy Griffith.
And yet they’ve combined their talents to release their first album as a duo, Beneath the Yukon Moon, consisting of 10 original songs and one cover, Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing”.
Drawing on their experiences hiking, canoeing, mushing, travelling and touring all over Canada, Europe and even China, Simpson and Weekes capture a wide scope of history as well as geography. Their styles are as diverse as their subject matter.
Simpson’s contributions are inspired by history, relying heavily on ragtime and early jazz. “Beneath the Yukon Moon” and “My Sweet Little Cheechako” would fit perfectly into the Frantic Follies, reflecting Yukon culture (“Like the summer breeze you vanished/From these mountains capped with snow/It sure could be a long, cold, lonely winter here/My sweet little cheechako”) in a light jazz style that feels as if they were written at the turn of the last century.
“Watch Sylvia Ride” is the story of a Yukon cowgirl, Sylvia Heikilla. It sounds like a song from an old Western musical starring Gene Autry, with a steady beat like Simpson is singing while mounted on a trotting horse (although I can’t imagine how the horse could carry the piano).
Weekes is more inspired by the geography and local culture she experiences. Biking through Ireland, she was moved to write “Blackberry Beau”, a Celtic love song, while pointing out the “Torn-covered bushes and moss-covered hills.”
“Kids of Mayne” is about children growing up on the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, whom Weekes met while paddling around Mayne Island. “Out of the mist come the kids of Mayne, down to the docks to be ferried away.”
Accompanying Simpson and Weekes on this journey across the time and land is an amazing team of musicians. Weekes’ fellow Home Sweet Homer, Keitha Clarke provides fiddle, giving “Blackberry Beau” that true Irish flavour. Producer Bob Hamilton plays dobro and mandolin, including a fantastic solo on “Beneath the Yukon Moon”, and contrasts with Jinming Dong’s erhu on “Purple Mountain”.
Marg Tatum’s accordion and Jay Burr’s trombone dance around each other on “I’m Gonna Name My Gypsy Wagon After You”. Rob Bergman and Marc Paradis effortlessly keep rhythm on upright bass and percussion though the wide varieties of styles.
Sarah Hamilton’s harmony vocals are especially beautiful. I love the texture her voice creates with Weekes on “Kids of Mayne” and “Red Lantern”.
With Beneath the Yukon Moon, Simpson and Weekes have created a cabaret of musical styles and experience that blends, like their voices, into a wonderful album. It’s part jazz, part folk, part nostalgia, part modern, and huge talent.
Grant Simpson and Kates Weekes will have their CD release concert at The Old Fire Hall on January 21, 2012.
Outstanding Tracks: “Blackberry Beau” and “I’m Gonna Name My Gypsy Wagon After You”.