From the start this gig conveyed the sense that all was right with the world. Or at least it was in the Cheeky Monkey. Transparently clear notes from the guitar of Nick Swan and silky tones from the voice of Lise Michaud were as much a caress as they were a delivery of sounds that transported listeners to a place where harmonious tranquility was dominant. It was a lovely space, the perfect answer to the bustle of the holidays, a trying day at work or just a day of the blahs that typifies the winter season. (For this writer it was the last one but that’s not important).
From any perspective it’s clear this duo is on to something. Nick Swan is a deeply sensitive guitarist who combines impeccable rhythmic timing with tasty melodic lead passages. Lise Michaud’s velvety mid-range provides a great foundation for singing music from an array of genre. Their understanding of the songs they take on conveys expression that’s never forced and they project a joy in their work that’s infectious.
That’s only what’s on their surface though. They love taking ideas and tossing them at the wall to see what sticks. Since their start as a duo they’ve added more harmony singing by Nick and have begun weaving vocal passages back and forth. Harmonica playing, done by Lise, has found it’s way into their mix and the results speak for themselves. Her phrasing on ‘Heart Of Gold’, which they played to close their first set, was exquisite. No other term can describe it. She was nervous about it but that’s only because they care about giving audiences something they’ll enjoy.
By engaging simplicity with the resources at hand and their own judgement they’ve arrived at a method that works entirely in the service of the music. Lise is willing to belt something out, but only when it fits. She dove into the codas of ‘Easy’ while backing off during the verses. Nick strummed his guitar for all it was worth during the intro of ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ and their harmony singing was delivered with gusto but the verses were given a softer and more reflective treatment. The same was true for their acoustic cover of ‘Valerie’; their interpretation hearkened toward the reading by Amy Winehouse rather than the original from the Zutons and it was gorgeous. That was reflected by the reaction from the audience.
What they’re doing now could be just the beginning of what’s to come from ‘Me and Mr. Smith’. Lise and Nick worked together for several years in the band Cornerstone, clearly enjoy this collaboration and play off of each other easily. As a duo they can likely fit more easily in the budgets of venues that want to offer live music. That’s no small factor in a period where so many are forced to have their cash flows under a microscope. They even have a catchy name and they display it on a suitcase. Everyone has to love that.
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