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New album from Billy Brandt

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    Posted: 19 Jun 2019 at 8:04pm

BILLY BRANDT is a singer, guitarist, and composer whose music has working-class appeal that radiates masculine charm and chutzpah. He has a voice like dark roasted coffee with a hint of cream. On his newest CD, CITY NOIR, Brandt takes his cue from the film noir genre and uses the city of Seattle as a backdrop for his songs of love, loss, and possibility. He reports on what he sees: a city in transition with equal parts invention and woebegone worries.
Brandt was raised in Hanover, MA, but now lives in the Pacific Northwest. A mainstay on the Seattle music scene, he performs regularly in clubs all around the city. CITY NOIR is his third CD and follows his 2011 release The Ballad of Larry's Neighbor and Get it Going, released in 2016.
Brandt is a storyteller, both as a singer and composer, somewhat in the tradition of Tom Waits, though with a more refined and nuanced voice. On CITY NOIR, he uses these talents to great effect, painting pictures of a town and its inhabitants in rich, dark colors against a backdrop of jazz, soul, and blues. His inspiration for this project came to him as he was driving through the city one gray day. "For a moment it was as if the color had washed away," relates Brandt. "It felt as if the city was the main character in a black and white movie. I could envision the detective, the criminal, the femme fatale, the patsy, and the loser all jockeying for space on the city streets." The concept intrigued him, so he began watching noir films like The Naked City, which was in theaters in 1948. Soon he had the framework for CITY NOIR.
The CD was produced by Brandt and BRIAN MONRONEY, who has performed and/or recorded with many top artists, including Tom Jones, Natalie Cole, and Gloria Estefan, to name just a few. He also plays guitar on seven of the eight tunes on the CD. Brandt performs around Seattle with his band he calls The Thing and The Stuff. The band has a rotating cast of 10 or so musicians, several of whom joined Brandt on this project, including ALEXY NIKOLAEV on sax. Originally from Russia, he studied with Dave Liebman and has become a major voice on the Seattle jazz scene. Also on this album are CHRIS SYMER on acoustic bass, TIM KENNEDY on piano, JEFF BUSH on percussion, BRAD BOAL on drums, JOE DORIA on Hammond B-3, JOHN HANSEN on piano, JAMAEL NANCE on drums, EMMANUEL DEL CASAL on acoustic bass, and BRADLEY HAWKINS on cello. DAVID ARTEAGA, KELLY ASH, DARELLE HOLDEN, and HANS BREHMER provide backup vocals.
Although Brandt's lyrics reflect contemporary realities, like noir films, they portray a doomed romanticism and cynical world view. Many noir films open with a narration that sets up the action to come. Brandt does the same and opens the album with the title tune, "City Noir," a spoken word piece with a cool, beatnik vibe and lyrics that begin "There's a blanket of grey in The Emerald City. / The streets are wet with rain. / The trees are evergreen and seen in Technicolor, / but the city itself is like an old black and white Humphrey Bogart film noir thriller."
"Ooh Sha Dooby" is actually a phrase that's repeated in a Rolling Stone's tune. Here Brandt uses it as a phrase that means "and so it goes." The song is a funky, bluesy paean to the decay at the heart of the city. "The rain dropped forget me nots / on all those have and have me nots / and all those city streets they seemed like a dead end. / It's hard to tell the bent from the broken. / Ooh sha dooby." Brandt got the idea for this tune reading a pulp fiction detective novel (The Steel Noose by Arnold Drake, published in 1954) while on an airplane. Like theme songs in many movies that repeat throughout the film, Brandt also closes the CD with a Latin version of the tune.
"Frances Doesn't Care for the Blues" is a mellow, bluesy ballad that evokes a smoky piano bar where the female lead has come to nurse her heartbreak with a glass of scotch in hand. The most standard tune on this recording, Brandt is backed by a trio of John Hansen on piano, Jamael Nance on drums and Emmanuel del Casal on acoustic bass.
"Gonna Be Those" is about a crime whose exact nature is never spelled out. "Beyond a doorway someone laughed out loud / Beyond a doorway someone sighed / No one knows the truth / But they all believe the lie." The tune opens and ends with the actual sound of the Seattle court house door slamming shut.
Card games are often featured in noir films, and Brandt pays homage to that imagery on "One of a Kind." "Now you call and ask me how I feel / I lay my cards down and say 'here's the deal' / I've got four words for you, you're... / 'one of a kind' and that's love by a different name."
Brandt wrote "Beau & Cello" as a metaphor about a love with strings literally attached. "The beautiful cello, right there, center stage / Where the cinema always plays / A film noir or vérité / Let me be your beau."
Along with smoky bars and shadowy streets, noir films often feature sexually charged dance scenes. What music is more sexually charged than the tango? When the tango first became popular, the church banned it because they thought the music was immoral. Brandt's "Tango Happiness" is a dream sequence about a seduction that takes place on a dance floor.
Brandt is a modern crooner with old-time sensibilities. Listening to CITY NOIR is like looking at an old photograph hanging from the wall in a dimly lit nightclub with red leather booths. You're somehow transported to a different time and place, when the world was black and white, while the jukebox incongruously plays 21st century music.
CITY NOIR was released April 17, 2019 and is available everywhere.

Edited by js - 19 Jun 2019 at 8:04pm
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