It was back in late 2017 when the music of Over The Moon – a folk-swing duo out of Longview, AB – travelled far enough east to land on our radar, and wow, did their debut “Moondancer” album ever impress. Sharing their passion for old cowboy songs and western-swing music, this husband/wife team of Craig Bignell (guitar/banjo/vocals) and Suzanne Levesque (upright bass/guitar/vocals) add their own signature style to the music, reinterpreting popular covers of older tunes, and composing their own timeless sounding original pieces too.
Quickly adding this duo to our bucket list of artists to catch live, we were both pleased and disheartened when Over The Moon visited the east coast back in early summer of 2018 – work (and other commitments) just didn’t put us all in the same geographic location at the same time. But, thanks to fate and good fortune, when the duo was added as an opening act to a Toronto show that fell on a weekend still wide open on our travel-calendar, this was an opportunity we refused to ignore – with that extra sense of urgency when learning that after that particular event, Craig and Suzanne (and their dog, Teak) would be pointing their vehicle west towards home. The show was amazing, naturally, and it was great to make their acquaintance in person at long last – but with just a short five-song opening slot, we left craving much, much more.
It may have taken a little longer than originally expected – thanks Covid-19 – but Over The Moon finally made their return to ON last month for a long-awaited tour, and with a selection of dates and towns to choose from, we quickly circled their appearance at the intimate Moonshine Café in Oakville as the place where we could ‘swing’ by and surprise them. Prior to this tour, the duo also shared news that some Ontario pals would be accompanying them at various shows, and did we ever luck out – learning that Paul Chapman (guitar) and Burke Carroll (pedal steel extraordinaire) would join them on this given night.
Performing two sets across the course of 1 hour and 45 minutes, the quartet dipped deeply into both their debut and sophomore “Chinook Waltz” albums all evening, adding some great covers and plenty of banter. “We’re from Longview, where the men are men, and the women are too,” Craig joked, ever the jester and ‘spinner of a good yarn.’ A natural storyteller, Craig is always happy to relate tales to life back home on their ranch in the Rockies, and as a solid comedic counterpart in her own right, Suzanne has a knack for delivering her own off-the-cuff one-liners. Their natural chemistry and sense of timing shines through, earning chuckles one moment, and all out belly-laughs the next.
“So, I know a lot of you are thinking, how did somebody that looks like me ever meet and marry a beautiful girl like Suzanne,” Craig proposed early in the evening. “Yes, we were” came a response from the floor. “I knew it, and it wasn’t an ad in Auto Trader,” Craig retorted. “I had the ad in Auto Trader,” stated Sue – with perfect timing. “And I was looking for a water pump,” joked Craig – we knew we were in for a fun evening, based on this early exchange alone. Craig would follow by reminiscing about how he recorded drum tracks for a band from Calgary (formerly a session percussionist from Owen Sound, ON, at that time in his life), and with a trip to Calgary to tour with a musician friend, got to meet Suzanne’s band during a rehearsal for their album release show. “I thought, holy jumping, that bass player’s pretty nice,” he shared. “Holy jumping,” mocked Suzanne, before allowing Craig to wrap up his tale of being too chicken to tell her how he felt, so ended up writing her a song.
Splitting lead vocal duties across their collection of songs, while both are gifted vocalists, with certain songs, it becomes apparent just how strong Suzanne’s range and delivery happens to be. Just witnessing her lead during their cover of the Ian Tyson penned hit, “Someday Soon,” and especially so on “I Can’t Get Over You,” leaves the listener in awe – this latter tune in particular given extra legs thanks to Burke’s pedal steel mastery ratcheting up the emotional impact. And with Paul’s impeccable acoustic guitar skills on display, Suzanne was heard acknowledging that while she often fills in on guitar, she’s “not doing that tonight with Chappy here.”
Having reviewed their 2021 “Chinook Waltz” album for GDW, it was wonderful to hear a selection of live interpretations of these more recent songs. From the sweet banjo licks that open “Lonesome Bluebird,” to the tongue-in-cheek nature of Craig’s “I’m Not Cool,” the band brought each and every one to life for those of us in attendance. Another album track, “John Ware,” also gave Craig that opportunity to relate a true historical tale to their small town of Longview. “He was born in slavery in South Carolina, and when slavery was abolished, he took right off, can’t blame him, caught a wagon train all across the states to Texas, signed on to a ranch there, and they taught him to become a cowboy,” Craig shared. “He started driving Longhorn cattle all the way up to Montana, and eventually, he drove them all the way up to Alberta. He became the first black cowboy in Alberta, became one of the best cowboys in Alberta, and became the first black ranch owner in Alberta. His nickname was ‘the good neighbour,’ and we thought we’d write a song about him.”
Prior to a unique interpretation of the classic Beatles’ tune “Nowhere Man,” Craig would once again tie their choices for covers to life on the ranch. “Sometimes at home, we like to sit out on our deck, get our instruments out, and try to figure out what certain bands would have sounded like if they grew up in Longview,” he commenced, pausing to build suspense. “We’ve done Led Zeppelin, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, who else?” “Tom Jones,” offered Suzanne. “Yeah, we did Tom Jones the other night, and Sue made me order the leather pants on Amazon,” Craig continued. “No, pleather, because they’re less expensive,” interjected Suzanne, before giving Craig the floor once more. “So, when we did the Tom Jones thing, I put on the pleather pants and I thought I was doing really good, but she said, ‘that’s really great, but next time put the potato in the front’.” A mixture of laughter and groans bounced around the room. “I love the reaction,” laughed Suzanne. “I think it’s hilarious,” Craig added.
Given their reference to Simon & Garfunkel, the band would later perform a fabulous interpretation of “Homeward Bound,” before bringing the evening to a close with their final tune. “Do you guys know the song Mambo #5? Craig asked, the nods and ‘mmm-hmm’s’ from the room acknowledging that we did. “So, this isn’t it. Mambo #5 never caught on in Longview at all. Instead, this one was a big hit, it’s Cowgirl Yodel #3.” And with a fun and fast paced cover of this Nora-Jane Struthers country tune, the four musicians left nothing on the table with their finale. A fabulous evening of music at The Moonshine Café, and some wonderful time spent reconnecting with Craig and Suzanne. You could say that we were over the moon to see them – pun fully, 100 percent intended.
- Love Hurts (Everly Bros. cover)
- Over The Moon
- Moondancer (Ian Tyson cover)
- Someday Soon (Ian Tyson cover)
- You Don’t Even Know
- I Can’t Get Over You
- That’s How I Learned To Sing The Blues
- Lonesome Bluebird
- Texas Love Song (Slaid Cleaves cover)
- Strangers We Meet (Ray Hughes cover)
- Kentucky (Everly Bros. cover)
- John Ware
- They Can’t Blackout The Moon
- Nowhere Man (Beatles cover)
- I’m Not Cool
- Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
- Cowgirl Yodel #3 (Nora-Jane Struthers cover)