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TWILIGHT HOTEL Highway Prayer CoraZong CRZ 255108 (2008)

Twilight Hotel

The Cora Zong label seems to be at the cutting edge of some of the best new roots music. Earlier this year they brought us Seattle's The Believers and now we have another delight in the shape of the Canadian duo Twilight Hotel and their second album 'Highway Prayer'.

Featuring the vocals and guitars of Winnipeg's Dave Quanbury and Brandy Zdan, the core duo are aided and abetted by the late Richard Bell on piano (Janis Joplin/The Band) producer/guitarist Colin Linden (Bruce Cockburn/Colin James), and the rhythm section of Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits), and Dave Roe (Johnny Cash).

The title says it all really as this hard gigging duo offer 12 tales of the road, full of broken dreams, dark psyches and in the case epic folk song 'The Ballad of Salvador And Isabelle' a tale of life, death, and a generational Chicano struggle against the odds.

Brandy also brings just the right amount of hardened emotion to the all too real lyrics of 'No Place For A Woman' on a suitably dark ta le of the travails of a woman coal miner. Of course both the subject matter and the roosty approach follows a well trodden path but a combination of the intensity of Twilight Hotel's performance and their poignant lyrics allied with Colin Linden intuitive production brings out all the light and shade of each tale.

Even when the duo slip into the closest they get to a straight forward country tune as on the duet on 'Impatient Love' the harmonies alone carry the number home. Above all both vocalists confidently take the lead at different times, with Brandy Zdan adding a lovely vibrato and an accordion to the sparse arrangement of 'Shadow of a Man' and Dave slipping quietly into the lead on the Salsa twang of 'Slumber Queen', another number on which Bell's deft piano lines perfectly help colour the palette.

On 'The Critic', Brandy's alt-country guitar twang and what sounds like (an uncredited) banjo sounds like Blanche with some similar obtuse relationship lyrics over a gypsy jazz rhythm track.

Producer Colin Linden adds some perfect dobro on the ironic almost honky tonk feel of 'If It Won't Kill You' to compliment Richard Bell's piano, while Brandy brings dredges up some latent desire on the self explanatory 'Sometimes I Get A Little lonely'. 'Highway Prayer' is a timely reminder of life between the cracks, of the characters the places and emotions that populate contemporary life and times past. And in that respect alone Twilight Hotel excel as chroniclers of alt-country from the other side of the fence!


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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