Vocalist/guitarist Michael McIntire and I met a long time ago (double digits) in a faraway land (a Clifton street corner). There, he busted out Acoustic/Blues/Gypsy Jazz with his Tom Waits-ish, down and dirty voice.
Lately, his vocals have shifted.
“I think I’m finding a happy medium in between that character voice that turned everybody’s heads and my own rendition of it,” McIntire says. “I think I have a cleaner voice in general … a little more Middle Eastern.”
Collecting stories, he still plays Ludlow Avenue, and he’s known for his welcoming presence and affectionate attitude toward his guitar. A lover of villainous songs, for five years Michael McIntire and the Marmalade Brigade have appeared in different forms, but Gregory Morris (of The Gregory Morris Group) and the core sound have remained.
This day, McIntire wears an orange suit and a pork pie hat. Ready to gig, he’s got his dress shoes going on. He announces, “Now I have a band full of real champions.”
Morris (mandolin, fiddle, banjo) wears an old man’s white summer hat over his longish hair. He plays 18 different instruments, McIntire says.
Morris admits, “I’m often accused as being either a hippie or a devil worshipper.” He prefers hippie. At 12, Morris caught the music bug upon hearing flamenco players in the gypsy caves outside of Grenada, Spain.
The old rule about opposites attracting brought in “Dr.” Laura Sabo (clarinet, bass clarinet).
McIntire smiles. “Laura Sabo is my lady … (we’ve) been dating working on three years now.”
Cleveland-born and currently working on her doctorate in music, a feather pokes out of Sabo’s dark hair.
She says, “I had never really improvised before. I’m classically trained … (but there’s) great synergy here.”
“We had to drag her to the dark side,” McIntire whispers.
“I wanted to go,” Sabo says, laughing.
“She’s at the peak of her scholastic education in music and I’m a street musician and a songwriter," McIntire explains, "so we really bring something opposite.”
From Columbus and playing the upright bass, young Ken Bruce wears glasses and suspenders. A College-Conservatory of Music student and a fan of Noise bands, he’s working on his Jazz degree. Bruce met Sabo through Latin band Poco Loco. He says, “Music seemed the most suitable thing I could do with my life, considering an actual job did not seem appealing to me.”
The Brigade has recently been road tripping to New Orleans, traveling in the “so cozy” Marmalade Wagon, a minivan.
“We have a lot of connections in that city and it’s always been a strong pull for us," Morris says. "The music, the culture, the magic, voodoo.”
Twice in the past five weeks, they’ve played New Orleans streets and clubs, where the band gets a huge response. They consider the town a second home. Sabo says, “There’s an amazing culture and respect for street performers down there. There, you start playing and almost immediately a crowd gathers.”
The band’s latest release, Devil Wears Brown (2009), was recorded live at Cash Flagg drummer Brian Moeller’s studio, and McIntire says the focus has changed. “The first album, I probably had 15 people sit in and play a song or two and this album is just the roots band, the four of us.”
Sabo adds, “The idea was to make it sound exactly like the live show.”
Passing around solos, the sound is alive with meaty fictional and real stories about getting wasted, arrested and chased by men with butcher knives. As Morris puts it, a welcome reprieve from creamy Radio Pop.
“Michael is a howler and a growler,” Morris says. “Extemporaneously spouting off these poetic visions, he’s never shy to talk to the crowd. When you look out at people, that’s when their most hooked, when he’s going off on these rants.”
“We like to say that Django, Tom Waits and Bob Marley had a love child, moved to Baghdad and continued performing, all four of them,” McIntire offers as a description of the band’s music. “Gypsy Jazz with a singer. But a little looser, a little dirtier.”
MICHAEL MCINTIRE AND THE MARMALADE BRIGADE (www.myspace.com/michaelmcintire) play every Monday at Sitwell’s Coffeehouse in Clifton. Get show and coffeehouse details here.