A Carnival of Musical Bliss

Off the Cuff: Live at the Winchester (Independent)
Troubadours of Divine Bliss

By Tim Roberts

Forgive the hyperbole that follows: Off the Cuff from Louisville's Troubadours of Divine Bliss is simply fun, fun, fun. Two discs of sheer joy. Guitarist Aim Me Smiley and accordionist Renee Ananda only get better with each release and their music is never disappointing. All of the spontaneity, fun, passion and compassion in every one of their live performances is present in these discs. Anyone who has seen these women perform live knows what that is like And if you have never seen them perform, this is as close as you can get.

Recorded during a December 2004 performance at the Winchester in Cleveland, Ohio, Off the Cuff presents the Troubadours in all their spontaneous glory. They have only one message in their music: Free your dreams, follow them and find your bliss. They do not communicate this with sound that you would hear in the Wyndam Hill catalog (atonal music with harps, soprano saxophones and the sound of water trickling over stones, stuff you'd hear piped over the speakers in a dentist's office to mask the whistling of a drill and the grinding of enamel). Instead, they follow in the grand tradition of street busking and cabarets. These are the spiritual goddaughters of Renaissance minstrels, gypsy musicians out to steal your heart (but bring it back to you), Barbary Coast barroom bands and cabaret chanteuses like Edit Piaf. Their musical mirth in those traditions is draws you in and you can't help but feel somewhat changed when it is over.

As for the music itself on Off the Cuff, it is, to be sure, a career retrospective containing selections from their three previous studio recordings, but it also features breathtaking covers of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers," and even Eric Idle's "Brightside of Life," currently featured in the Broadway musical Spamalot. Each song has the trademark Troubadour accordion, guitar and two-part vocal harmony, but they are also fleshed out with guest musicians Randy Brewer on mandolin, Steph Dlugon on violin, Brian Henke on guitar and Bob Petarcas on banjo.

But one song on the entire two-disc set probably has the most impact in light of the disaster that befell the Gulf Coast last month. "Scarlet Carnival," a tribute to all the rollicking fun that went on in the Storyville section of New Orleans and which appeared on the Troubadours' 2000 release Dressing Room for Eternity, is a reminder of what that city once represented in the minds of many: the Mardi Gras, nonstop jazz, erotic temptations, voodoo mystery, Lestat. The song is, to paraphrase the line spoken by James Earl Jones's character in Field of Dreams, a reminder of "all that once was good and it could be again" about that city.

Throughout all of the music on Off the Cuff, you get the feeling you're at a carnival, where the games aren't rigged, where the rides are safe but still fun, where the smiles are genuine and not a sleaze-hiding veneer, where you can still get a quick peek at the sideshow with their wry wit and sometimes off-color hilarity.

In short, it represents everything the Troubadours of Divine Bliss are about.

Learn more at www.troubadoursofdivinebliss.com.