Alex Bird is a Canadian actor, singer and songwriter who has been working the Toronto jazz scene with his band the Jazz Mavericks, which comprises pianist Ewen Farncombe, bass player Scott Hunter and drummer Eric West. Dubbed “the newest chapter of the Great American Songbook”, his self-released debut album Whisky Kisses includes 11 original songs co-penned with Farncombe or co-producer Charlie Angus. Inspired by Tin Pan Alley, it seeks to take the GAS tradition to a new generation of music fans. The first single, The Way She Moves, drew warm reviews in the Canadian music press, reaching No 1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart, and the second, the album’s title track, won Best Jazz Song at the World Songwriting Awards.
Recorded at the Canterbury Music Company, the set opens with the sublime Fire Not Warmth, whose jaunty bass rhythm, reminiscent of the Cooley/Blackwell classic Fever made famous by Peggy Lee, is paired with Farncombe’s playful Hammond B3 against West’s foot-tappin’ percussion. Baby I’ll Have You sees Farncombe contributing tasteful piano fills to the singer’s agreeable lead, while Lemon Drop Stars continues in similar silky style via Hunter’s careless upright bass notes. The slow-footed 3:52 (In the Morning) is a potential future classic which could have originated in the era in question, while the bouncy Gotta Run features subtle drum fills and smooth keyboards.
Along with Fire Not Warmth, the real gem is The Way She Moves, which picks up the Fever oeuvre with even more gusto, as Farncombe’s moody organ passages render sterling support to the singer’s low, seductive vocal, which then surprises the listener by suddenly soaring during the bridges against Hunter’s quickening bass lines. Farncombe again shines on the Hammond, and West keeps things on target with a punchy drum rhythm.
Bird’s voice is attractive, laidback and easy to appreciate, and while comparisons to Elvis or Sinatra may be dubious, similar allusions to Bobby Darin and Michael Bublé are spot on (one could also mention Jamie Cullum and Harry Connick Jr). The songwriting is sound, although given the album’s remit, the myriad influences of Warren, Kahn, Styne, Fain and many other GSA alumni are no surprise. The highly skilled musicians provide robust backing and acquit themselves well, and the arrangements, by virtue of the era which inspired them, have an easy listening, middle-of-the-road, cocktail bar sensibility. Having said that, this is nevertheless a luscious, well-performed collection of originals that will appeal to fans of both ballads and up-tunes from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Fire Not Warmth; Baby I’ll Have You; Lemon Drop Stars; 3:52 (In The Morning); Gotta Run; The Colours of October; Now Is the Night; The Way She Moves; I Almost Remembered; A Beautiful Girl; Whisky Kisses (47.35)
Bird (v); Ewen Farncombe (p, kyb); Eric West (d); Scott Hunter (b). Toronto, Canada, 2020.