I like to think about what Petunia, frontman of Petunia and the Vipers, sees when he steps up to the mic. There’s something about his old-timey aesthetic, warbling, velvet voice and smoky gaze that hint at a man transposed from another time, as if he was plucked from some turn-of-the-century ragtime saloon and plopped down on Sam Bond’s stage. If you look really close, I bet you can catch the reflection of a rowdy bunch passing around Jimmy-Johns full of moonshine flickering across his eyes. And if you can’t, the music will take you there anyway.
The Vancouver-based ensemble has been touring up and down the West Coast for its 2011 self-titled album, Petunia and the Vipers. The album is as rich, weathered and nuanced as an old pair of cowboy boots. Petunia sets the mood with silver-tongued vocals, yodels, acoustic guitar and kazoo while the Vipers set the scene with Stephen Nikleva on electric guitar, Jimmy Roy on lap steel guitar (who appropriately looks like the lovechild of Lyle Lovett and Sam Elliott) and Marc L’Esperance on drums and backing vocals. Depending on the night, upright bass is played by Patrick Metzger, Sam Shoichet or James Lillico. Petunia says the band came together from his “touring and hoboing around” and together they create a sound that is equal parts ragtime, country, rockabilly and jazz.
The album opens with “Cricket Song,” showcasing Petunia’s yodeling, which he says he has been practicing for over 15 years. Never has yodeling come so close to crooning before. “While the crickets are calling me on this full moonlit Canadian night,” he sings, paying homage to his native Quebec and the band’s sleepy version of “Stardust” is right up there with the greats. On “Yes Baby Yes,” the band hits a swinging stride that comes to a head with the hopping “Gitterbug.” So pass the moonshine and hit the dance floor.
Petunia and the Vipers play 9:30 pm Friday, Nov. 2, at Sam Bond’s Garage; $10.