by Mark Anthony Brennan
Release Date: October 28th, 2014
Cellist/pianist/composer Peggy Lee is best known for her work with the Peggy Lee Band, which she formed in 1998. She has now partnered with sing-songwriter/poet Julie McGeer — who has a background in theatre and dance — to form The Sands. On their debut ‘Beast to Bone’ they call upon the production talents of jazz musician Jesse Zubot, as well as some of the best musicians in the biz, to come up with an original amalgam of folk, jazz and indie rock.
The music centres around the interplay of McGeer’s individualistic vocals and Lee’s emotive piano playing (and occasionally cello). “Against the Drift”, for example, features McGeer’s vulnerable voice quavering under the weight of the lyrics’ heavy load, while Lee pounds her piano, at times expressing melancholy and at others hope. All the while the exemplary band provides rich accompaniment, especially trumpeter JP Carter who just about steals the show on this one. Then there is the outstanding “Magnolia”, in which McGeer sings a wistful tale about an aging Southern woman, while Lee’s delicate strings anchor the track’s instrumentation.
The nice thing about this pair is their willingness (or perhaps I should say, determination) to abandon tradition and defy expectations. McGeer’s approaches her lyrics like the poet she is, with the enunciation of the words being paramount — so her melodies may not play out the way you expect. In fact, she may sound off-key until you fully appreciate that that is exactly how the song is supposed to sound. Lee, for her part, rejects traditional jazz or classical styles in favour of using her instrument to expressively complement the lyrical content of the song. Their synergy produces a body of work that is both idiosyncratic and refreshingly original.