“I’ve always thought we were a dance band at the end of the day.” So singer-guitarist described his band Bondi Cigars to Rhythms recently. A blues band? Sure, but not just a blues band. To listen to their latest opus, Universal Stew, released on the band’s 20th anniversary, is to be presented with a broad mix of guitar music….a “universal stew” indeed.
“When people say we’re not a blues band any more it makes me laugh because we never really were,” Pacey revealed in the same interview. “We used to play Nice Lowe and Hank Williams songs and all kinds of stuff when we first started.” And so they throw their arms around all that stuff over the course of these 12 tracks, pinning down sparse, precise rhythms – bass player Al Britton and drummer Frank Corby laying down most of their parts first take, the result of performing so many shows over the years -over which the vocals and guitars of Pacey and Eben Hale duet with consistent taste and poise.
If that makes the whole thing sound too conservative, let’s just say that the Cigars demonstrate that laid-back, minimalist grooves can be more affecting that frenetic, over-zealous ones. pacey has acknowledged a New Orleans influence in that department and it’s particularly evident on tracks like ‘Cradle Of The Blues’.
And yet, with its country influenced, and sunny harmonies, ‘Joyful Sound’ sounds more LA white soul, a la CSNY, and then ‘Stomping Ground’ is sparse swampy fingerpicked folk of the ilk of someone like Greg Brown.
Notably, all but one song are original compositions, the soul exception being a version of the soul track, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ which, in its illustrious existence, has been recorded by OV Wright, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Steve Young, Humbler Pie, and Taj Mahal. Which is interesting, because those artists map a pretty complete boundary of the musical territory over which the Cigars so eloquently roam these days.