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  22 November 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Tumbledown House - Tom Waits in a Cocktail Dress

T-Bone Cologne? All right, that could mean many things, especially in Bozeman. The aroma one inherits at a steakhouse, an item for sale at a gourmet dog boutique, or a cheeky way to suggest a friend needs a shower. But rather than a gift for your pooch from Dee-O-Gee or Barkenhowell’s, this is the name of a song by the musical duo, Tumbledown House. That’s how they roll—intriguing ditties with still-more-intriguing titles.

The musical pairing of Gillian Howe and Tyler Ryan Miller has been spicing up the music scene since 2008. Originally from Phoenix, Tyler met his match in 2006 in Portland, Oregon, while working in a brewery. Gillian is a Montana native raised on the farm widely known as the Springhill Pavilion who matriculated from Springhill’s one-room schoolhouse, a dozen miles north of Bozeman. She had what she calls “a complete ranch-kid childhood,” which in part presents TDH’s motive for a return to the Gallatin Valley.

The two began playing music together as a hobby in Oregon and moved to Bozeman in 2007. He worked in advertising; she as a substitute teacher. On a lark, they entered a songwriting contest in Livingston, where they beat out 36 other contestants from across the state for first place. With the $600 prize money, they procured some recording time, which is how their first album came to be. TDH has since toured the country several times, sharing the stage with all manner of seasoned musicians like Crooked Still, Keller Williams, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

It turns out there is a niche for 1920s-era revelry in modern times; when Gillian and Tyler appear onstage, their choice of garb further evokes Prohibition-like taverns and antique awesomeness. Imagine Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Yet this is no downtrodden lounge act; the two of them are most youthful and exude upbeat, compelling energy. The critics’ characterization of their sound alone is enticing: “gritty saloon jazz,” “modern speakeasy music,” “parlor music inflicted with the unspeakable,” and “Tom Waits in a cocktail dress.” Furthermore, in the words of the band, dressing in 1920s-speakeasy attire is expected at their shows, and “failure to do so will result in ridicule in front of your peers.”

Back to T-Bone Cologne: these two musicians, whose witticisms can be appreciated on the Tumbledown House website, have written some fantastically original songs. When you visit their Facebook fanpage, you may notice that “gambling, cheating, spitting, lying” are listed among their interests (sounds like the Tom Waits we all know and love), as well as writing stories “that may revolve around shady characters down on their luck, brothels with an eccentric clientele, or a scorned woman out for revenge.” Just think what they can do when they add music.

TDH endeavors to perform mostly original material, but when they do “resort work”—which amounted to a sizeable chunk of this non-winter’s performances—they tend toward more recognizable tunes. “People aren’t there to listen to music; they’re there to recover from a long day on the ski hill, and we’re there as background,” says Tyler of the Big Sky appearances. “We try to cover artists that are in line with our style, like Eric Clapton, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash.” She would be the Patsy, with her sultry vocal cords, and he’s the Clapton/Cash guitarist. And who can forget Gillian’s kazoo skills; in the words of her admiring partner, “Gillian is the Yo-Yo Ma of kazoo—she’s a virtuoso.”

Hoping to avoid the common misstep of local bands everywhere, Tumbledown House is leery of saturating the Bozeman market by playing too many bars and weddings. They're leaving for a string of performances in Arizona in a week or so—but first there will be a CD release show this Friday at the fabulous Peach Street Studios for their new album, Fables and Falsehoods (this event is already sold out, so get ye to the next one). For their last local performance of the season, they’ve scheduled a Mardi Gras show at the Crystal Bar, with a brass band in support.”Fat Tuesday – costumes encouraged, high spirits expected!” The new stage in the Crystal, elevated above the dance floor, will provide plenty of room for said high spirits and raising the roof.

Although the duo will be building up the heat in Arizona for the next few months, where, as they say, “the lawlessness and the cheap booze are fine fodder for another album,” they’ll be back in mid-June for a roaring Bozeman summer of music. If you don’t catch them before their departure, their music and style can be experienced on YouTube and the engaging Tumbledown House website. Even in the privacy of home, you might want to don a fedora or a flapper dress, pour yourself a Mint Julep, and lend ‘em an ear.  -TBM

Photo of writer/editor/entrepreneur Katie ThomasEditor’s Note: Several of the Magpie squadron plan to make the scene, in full regalia, at the Crystal. To get up to speed on the clever diction of the Roaring Twenties—with “ducky” terms like “Bum’s rush,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” and “Palooka”—check out Potpurri: Slang of the 1920s. We’ll see ya there, kicking up your gams at the juice joint.

Read More Magpie:  The eFlock really responded to Katie Thomas's early-January article on local craftsman Mark Price, titled "Tenacious P."

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