James Bruce Moore
Lisbeth is a musical love letter of rare beauty. The debut album from Toronto-based singer/songwriter James Bruce Moore, it is a compelling collection of songs dedicated to Moore's late wife, Lisbeth Marian Moore. "These are songs inspired by Lisbeth's love for life," James explains. "The recordings are infused with our mutual love and respect for one another. This album is released in honour of her giving nature, her love, warmth and the kindness she extended to all those she knew."
The songs on Lisbeth were actually written and recorded by Moore just prior to his wife of 36 years being diagnosed with leukemia. She passed away on Nov. 29, 2011, and James pays eloquent tribute to her vibrant spirit with this album. The release of the record also honours Lisbeth in a very tangible way. All of the proceeds from sales of the disc will go to the Lisbeth Moore Leukemia Fund at The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, with the goal of helping familes affected by leukemia.
On Lisbeth, Moore has naturally forged an organic sound that seamlessly fuses country, folk and blues elements. If pressed, he'll define his style as "an acoustic-driven folk-country hybrid. I think the fact I play the acoustic guitar is evocative of certain things." His eclectic musical influences and inspirations range from Robert Johnson and Hank Williams through to Dylan and Leon Russell, even Debussy. "I believe music of all descriptions has a life-enhancing ability to help us relate to each other. I love it all," he stresses.
The decision by Moore and album producer George Koller to record the 12 original songs on Lisbeth live and off-the-floor in noted Toronto studio Number Nine paid off handsomely. This spontaneous approach perfectly captured the intimate and warm personality of Moore's roots-based songs and single malt-smooth voice.
There is a refreshing variety to the material on Lisbeth. "In The Fall" is a seven-minute epic inspired by Moore's time in London, while "Messieurs Fear And Fantasy" has a jazzy feel. There is a classic Patsy Cline-like vibe to "Fool," while "Come And Gone" was inspired by Hank Williams and would have been a wonderful duet for Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
"Stars Of Silver," a poignant song about a yearning for love, has already touched many people via its inclusion on Maple Leaf Rising Sun, a George Koller-produced compilation album to benefit Japanese tsunami victims. It shares space with and more than holds its own next to songs by the likes of Dan Hill and Louise Pitre.
One song with extra special meaning for Moore is "Lisbeth's Love," a beautifully simple instrumental piece featuring James on ukelele and George on double bass. Inspired by the folk music Moore and Lisbeth would hear on many occasions at a Midsummer celebration in Dalarna, Sweden, the tune came to James in just five minutes, and it is wonderfully evocative of this magical time and place.
As a lyricist, James Bruce Moore packs a poetic punch. He is equally at home writing in an autobiographical style or creating characters with vivid stories to tell, as on "Waco." "That song came to me when I was sitting on a bus in Costa Rica with one of my kids a few years ago," says James. He is not afraid to tackle social issues either, as he demonstrates with the powerfully angry "Residential School" - "We ripped them apart and tore them asunder, a cracking sound as strong as big thunder." "I do write in different ways," he acknowledges. "It comes down to having a passion about something. There is no common theme I can discern."
While Lisbeth is the first recording released under his own name, James Bruce Moore is certainly no musical novice. His lifelong passion for music was born at an early age, he recalls. "As a kid, I'd listen to Hank Williams, and my world changed when I heard Elvis sing on those early '45s. At nine, I begged my folks for guitar lessons. I remember having so much pride in taking this six-string acoustic guitar home. The teacher told my father 'this boy has something,' but we didn't have the dough to carry on."
He later taught himself to play bass, and by 15, Moore was in a Toronto rock 'n roll band, playing University of Toronto frat parties. "We thought we'd died and gone to heaven," he laughs. "All these 18 year old women there and all the beer we wanted!"
Bitten by the rock 'n roll bug, James headed over to London after finishing high school. He joined three young Brits in a blues-rock band that played the London circuit and got to record at the ITV studios. The group never quite broke big, though its guitarist would later join hitmakers Mungo Jerry. Moore recalls one highlight as a gig at famed London hangout the Speakeasy at which such British rock royalty as Robert Plant and Stan Webb (Chicken Shack) were in attendance.
On his return to Toronto, James enrolled at York University and met Lisbeth. Family and career then took precedence in his life, but the creative urge never left him. "I taught myself guitar and began recording on a little unit in my home," he explains. "I was really missing the vibe and interplay with other musicians, doing it on my own, so I really wanted to go into a studio with other people and see what the result was."
Moore then sent a few demos of his material out. Serendipitously, one reached George Rondina at Number Nine studio. James explains that "George rang me up and said 'I want you to come and meet George Koller. We like what you've been doing on your own but we'd like to hear more about your plans.' I told him 'I just want to create a collection of these songs.' I had about 25 at this point. I then went down to the studio with my acoustic guitar and played my heart out."
George Koller is an acclaimed bassist and producer who has played extensively with the likes of Loreena McKennitt, the Shuffle Demons, Holly Cole, Bruce Cockburn and Ian Tyson and produced albums by the likes of Amanda Martinez and Patricia O'Callaghan. He was immediately taken with the quality of Moore's songs, and a fertile new creative partnership was forged.
Koller assembled an A-team of high calibre musicians for the recording session, a grouping comprising guitarist Steve Briggs (Bebop Cowboys, Russell deCarle), keyboardist (grand piano and B3) Denis Keldie (Prairie Oyster, The Rankins), and drummer Mark Mariash (Ruth Moody, Sarah Slean). Koller played bass, Moore brought in Kirsten Rea to add harmony vocals, and steel guitar ace Burke Carroll (Justin Rutledge) adds shimmering magic to "Stars Of Silver," the closing cut on Lisbeth.
Things clicked instantly, right from the first meeting with the musicians. "After the first song, 'Fool,' I dropped my guitar on the floor," James recalls. "I was completely shocked at how those folks had brought the song to life. I thought 'this is magical. This is everything I heard in my head!' When you deal with creative people like these musicians there is a vibe and a comfort level. In the studio, we got everything down in two and a half days, and I was on the top of the world."
The happy result is Lisbeth, a record with which James Bruce Moore does the love of his life real justice. As he notes, "there is a story behind this album, but over and above the story the music has to be able to stand on its own."
That it does, on a genuinely heart-warming record full of love, poetry and wisdom. It is one richly deserving of your attention.