The Madison-based duo celebrates its fourth release of eclectic, acoustic swing tunes. Info
Mal-O-Dua, the acoustic duo of Cedric Baetche and Chris Ruppenthal, has been playing a mix of Django Reinhardt-style swing, country music, French pop, and fluttery Hawaiian slack-key guitar for more than a decade. If the combination is slightly novel on paper, the pieces fit together with ease, thanks to Baetche's sly, rugged vocals (in a combination of English and his native French) and the pair's deceptively relaxed-sounding displays of skill on both guitar and ukulele. Ruppenthal can play dizzyingly fleet and complex guitar leads and is a serious disciple of Reinhardt's guitar style, as anyone who's seen him play in Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble can attest. And sure, Mal-O-Dua has its share of impressive flourishes—the name is a play on a French phrase for "aching fingers"—but Baetche and Ruppenthal place them in a context that's all about helping people kick back and warm up over a few drinks. Which is good, because the Madison-based duo has a regular happy-hour gig at Mickey's Tavern, so the music needs to embrace the noise and chatter of a crowd, rather than fight it.
Take "Nuages," from the new release Au Nouveau Chat Noir, which the duo will celebrate with this show. Mal-O-Dua's take on this Reinhardt composition (with lyrics later written by French singer Jacques Larue) begins with a ripple of descending arpeggios, then gradually saunters its way into a swooning groove under Baetche's vocals. "Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit," one of two songs here by French singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, takes a bit more of a raffish twist, with Baetche singing in his most suave baritone and Ruppenthal getting in lots of brief, prickly fills. On the whole, Au Nouveau Chat Noir emphasizes Mal-O-Dua's French influences, though the Hawaiian steel guitar slides to the fore on an instrumental rendition of "Beautiful Ohio" and the duo gets into more of a full-on exotica zone with "Keep Your Eyes On The Hands." Elsewhere, on "Song For Patrick" and "18 Rue Borda," Ruppenthal and Baetche let a little extra virtuosity shine through, but never disrupt the easygoing charm that makes Mal-O-Dua such an enduring gem in Madison. The duo will play two sets here at the Ohio, the first comprising the new record in its entirety. —Scott Gordon