Modesty might not be the best marketing technique, but one of the appealing outcomes is often surprise. Since forming in late 2011, TJ Muller & The Dixie Six have enjoyed relative success in Edinburgh and a few other cities in the UK, being a welcome, if not favoured choice amongst those looking to hold a night of lively swing music. Despite all this, the band didn’t count on a large queue forming outside the venue for their album launch party late last month–a line that went around a corner, and probably could have filled the chosen venue more than twice over. It was sad that people had to be turned away, but being the sporting musicians they are, TJ Muller and a couple of his associates braved the cold and performed a few songs for those who would miss out on the night’s frivolities.
Not just pertaining to 1930/40s British jazz era with their clothes, TJ Muller & The Dixie Six embrace the past in their music with open arms. It’s music to get you moving. You’ll bop about, and if you know the steps, you’ll kick out the best Charleston you can. Their first full length is a half hour of swing, jazz, and other hotpot melodies and rhythms that’s likeable, if not infectious with the energy it exudes. Blithesome, if not a little bit silly opening track “The Spirit of Scat” has Muller weaving a tale of the origins of the jazz language in his energetic and slightly grainy tone, before inhabiting the spirit himself. The main riff is never quite hit on the head exactly, as the band dance around it instead, which makes one think the full effect is being missed, but complaining also seems to miss the point. It’s best to just enjoy the ride.
And considering that TJ Muller and his troupe keep things at an up-tempo pace, the ride can be a little exhausting at times, all set off by that opening track. Apart from a New Orleans funeral march intro to “A Closer Walker With Thee” and “Darlin’ Suzy,” the tracks all ride a positive pace, and even “A Closer Walk” soon becomes a bit of a fanfare, set off by a spot of guest trumpeting by Luc Klein. The likes of “Tom Martin” and “Sorry For Being a Jerk” are undeniably upbeat numbers that, again, will have you, at the very least, tapping your feet to the beat. Come the penultimate track, “Old Man Mose,” Muller sounds out of breath as Teddy Harbot guests with his double bass to keep the track together.
Although the title reads “Edinburgh, Scotland,” there’s a distinct American sound in the music, evoking the likes of Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway (granted with a little less bombast due to the comparative number of players). “The Cat Is High” has Rob Heron in for vocal duties, whose smoothness almost comes off a little too slick for the jovial and jocular band behind him while come the final track “Blues Blues,” Muller gets propositioned by a girl who asks him to come away with her across the pond.
American, British, or somewhere in between, there’s no denying the TJ Muller & The Dixie Six’s debut is a greatly enjoyable affair. Any gripes, whether they be about the lack of varying tempos, how the casual simplicity of their earlier tracks has gone, or how guitarist Seamus Conacher tends to get lost in the mix don’t really manifest to much when the damn thing is actually playing. When the band are doing their thing, and there’s breathing space that allows everyone to showcase their talent (the aforementioned “Sorry For Being A Jerk” and “Darlin’ Suzy”), it’s impossible not to smile. Modesty can make for a great surprise, not just for the artist, but, more importantly, for the listener as well.