There is a pleasant surprise hearing Western Swing emerging from the Marshall Ford Swing Band when you realize they've been together for twenty years. In the album It's About Dam Time, the group shows a maturity and an understanding to all the music they released. The combination of original songs and classic songs melds beautifully as each track flows one into another. The album It's About Dam Time had everything right from the order of tracks to the choice of album cover with a cute armadillo in boots.
Each member gets a moment to shine with solos. I loved the piano and guitar solos included in "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town." The group manages to have a great dynamic even when guest musician Erik Hokkanen joins in on the track "Old Joe's Hittin' the Jug." The band can prove that they can work with any tempo. Both "Pickles n Tomatoes" and "Section 8" has a mastery over the tempo; nothing feels like the band was rushed or couldn't keep up. On the other side of tempo, "On the Alamo" is smooth jazz showcasing the dual guitar playing skills of Greg Harkins and Jeremy Wheeless. It's About Dam Time showcases a variety of tempos and solos and all blend well together.
Emily Ann Gimble is the standout vocalist of the Marhsall Ford Swing Band. Her voice has a classic jazz sound and could be a contemporary of Norah Jones. Every song that Emily has the lead on becomes better because her vocals are added; her first vocal on the album comes from "Trouble, Trouble" and the song is just a door to Emily's skills. The beautiful tone of Emily's voice is emphasized in light "The Barroom Waltz," but there is such a calming ease when she sings "Marie." Her vocals easily glide from high to low notes. Emily emits a comfort in how she sings even if it's just in the background.
The vocals of Greg Harkins and James Gwyn are average, with a low point with the opening track "Lyla Lou." While Greg sounds decent in "The Girl I Left Behind Me," the emphasis is less on Greg than it is celebrating an old folk song. The group sections of the song was the best representation to fit that folk/shanty feeling. Greg does the best job with his vocals on "Dreamin'," a song that he penned, displaying that he understands how to use his own voice in original music. Similarly, "Pickles n Tomatoes," another song penned by Harkins, has cheeky lyrics that works well with his own voice. Combined with Emily, like in "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town" they blend beautifully. In future albums I hope that Harkins continues to explore his composition skills because he knows what suits his voice best.
The one original song that has the best combination of vocals, solos, and vibe is "What I Like About Texas." The song's cheery attitude is executed perfectly by combining the perfect puzzle pieces: the guitar solos are spot-on, guest fiddler Danny Levin grooves in the background, and Emily's vocals are at her best. There are several classic songs included on It's About Dam Time. The track "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" is the best cover on the album. Emily's vocals are at her best, her piano solo matches the jazz beat, and the guitar solos. The group clearly was influenced by classics like Billie Holiday and Les Paul and understood how to be respectful but still have their own original modern twist.
The album is a strong mix of tempos and genres. The band succeeds in mixing original tracks with classics by Irving Berlin and make all of the songs feel fresh. The Marshall Ford Swing Band exudes confidence in what they do and provides a great example of how performing timeless music that's good to hear no matter when the song was created. For individual standouts, "What I Like About Texas" and "Pickles 'n' Tomatoes" are both original songs created by members of the Marshall Ford Swing Band and show the creativity with both lyrics and execution.