In the early part of the last decade, Tommy Halloran led the laid-back swing combo the Ambiguous They, a group that fused the somewhat disparate sensibilities of Irving Berlin, Tom Waits and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. That the band never made much of a mark was always a shame, but Halloran spent the ensuing years hosting open mic nights and playing around town, singing in a cheerfully raspy tone and strumming jazzy guitar chords.
Along the way Halloran has made some friends in the local blues, jazz and singer-songwriter scenes, and many of those pals pop up on his lovely Moan & Shout. Members of the Soulard Blues Band, the Funky Butt Brass Band and the Bottoms Up Blues Gang sit in and give an appropriately breezy feel to Halloran's low-slung ditties. Pianist Matt Murdick is a sideman extraordinaire, able to hang back with broad, open chords or drive the rhythm with a New Orleans shuffle, as on the album-closing "Easiest Thing in the World."
Halloran's songs have the timeless sway of pre-World War II jazz, with a special nod to the jazz guitar maestro Django Reinhardt and the gypsy swing from the first few Andrew Bird records. The mood is so sweet-and-low, so eternally easygoing that you'd be forgiven for swatting imaginary mosquitoes with an equally imaginary straw hat when this disc is playing. This is gin-tippling music, pure and simple. Even when Halloran gets lachrymose, as on the lover's lament "In the Cool of the Pines," he still manages to turn heartbreak into a sing-along. But he's better at soft-touch jazz and easy swing tempos, and luckily, Moan & Shout is full of such songs. As summer beckons, Halloran and company offer a fitting soundtrack for lazy, humid afternoons.
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