Henry Miller is quoted as saying that “one’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things”. Travel, or perhaps the sense of dislocation that it engenders pervades the latest album from Twilight Hotel, the musical partnership of Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury. Hailing originally from Winnipeg in Canada but now located in Austin, Texas this album is in part the soundtrack of their drive across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona as they headed to Los Angeles for the recording sessions.
The songs on this album are quiet, thoughtful in nature. Built in just three days, with the songs played live, this would suggest the building blocks of a rawer, more immediate album but these songs show a careful, layered construction principally based on the central duo’s vocals. There’s an Americana folk sensibility to these songs but one that knows when to add buzzsaw guitars to their acoustic roots. The craft displayed in these songs is further demonstration that Twilight Hotel aren’t newcomers but have learned a thing or two since starting to work together some eight years ago.
This is the music of wide open spaces but more so of the people you meet within them and the stories they may tell. The alternative country folk rock songs carry their fair share of melancholia. Quanbury sings of “waking from a dream of letting go”, whilst later in the album Zdan asserts that she has “seen the darkness”. In the hands of some artists this would be edging towards cliched territory but here it simply comes across as haunting.
The sedate rhythms at the core of these songs evoke driving for hours stretching into days across America’s hinterland - giving plenty of time to consider the human condition. Can we listen to the wind? Indeed we can.
This Austin based Canadian duo brought their fairly unique blend of Gothic Americana for the first time to Glasgow on a quiet midweek night which might explain the meagre audience numbers but for those who came it was a sublime performance. Topped with a Baron Samedi styled top hat, Dave Quanbury wrung some fine spectral sounds from his guitar while Brandy Zdan proved to have a great voice and was no slouch on guitar and accordion. With additional kick drum and trombone from Quanbury and a mesmerising piece of lap steel playing from Zdan the two man band were able to capture much of the mystery and atmosphere of their most recent album When The Wolves Go Blind.
With songs ranging from the tango styled What Do I Know About Love to the Rockabilly Rattle of Ham Radio Blues there was variety in the set but the overall thrust was of a cold darkness with menace in the lyrics and the music. The Master was transformed into a David Lynch dark highway melodrama with both players meshing and mashing the guitar lines, thrilling stuff. Their rendition of Frozen Town, a paean to their hometown of Winnipeg had a wintry lonesome Neil Young feel to it and was the occasion for Zdan to embroider the piece with some fine sonic swoopings on her lap steel before segueing in to Ham Radio Blues. The duo showed that they can rival some classic male/female vocal pairings with a rendition of Impatient Love from their Highway Prayer album but they were at their best when Quanbury was teasing out feedback crouched by his speaker while Zdan’s voice commanded attention. She’s a great singer and at times one was reminded of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins while listening to her. With some new songs including one called (I think) Blackbird Lips where shards of sound fell from Quanburys’ strings it bodes well for their next recorded outing.