Dignity and Shame
I first discovered Crooked Fingers over a year ago when they were touring with Azure Ray, a band I had just started listening to. Curious about what kind of sound they had that would compliment Azure Ray, I checked out some of their songs on their website and was immediately hooked by their low-key, gravel-voiced sound. "New Drink For The Old Drunk" and "Sweet Marie" had me captivated, wanting to hear more from the band. Soon I had a couple of their albums and considered myself a full-fledged fan of their quiet, at times sorrowful, rock music. The lead singer, Eric Bachmann, has a wonderful, time-worn and weary voice that perfectly captures the pain of life and an honest and realistic angst that comes from repeated emotional hardships.
Now, on their fourth full length album, Dignity and Shame, Crooked Fingers are embarking in a new direction while bringing along familiar sounds. The first track, "Islero," makes clear that this will not be a simple retread of any of their previous albums. It starts out with slow and quiet guitar pickings, then brings in hand drums and finally kicks into a higher flourish with some beautiful trumpet work. The song has a very Southwestern feel to it, taking some of those sounds from their past album, Red Devil Dawn, to new heights. It's a great track, purely instrumental work that sets a melancholic mood for the rest of the album.
Interestingly, the next two songs pick up the pace more. In fact, they clash--ever so slightly--with "Islero," presenting a more upbeat and optimistic tone. However, they're good, enjoyable songs. The fourth track, "Twilight Creeps," takes the incongruity to a new level, though, ultimately clashing with the previous songs. So much about the song is high-pitched, from the opening piano chords to the eventual lyrical work of Lara Meyerratken, who shows up on a few of the album's songs. The track isn't completely out of place and is actually a solid song when Bachmann is singing. However, once Meyerratken comes in, everything feels wrong and out of place, too high and breathy. With the grit of Bachmann's voice gone, the song succumbs to a light and breezy sound, a complete affront against the tone established at the outset by "Islero."
It doesn't break the album, though. Once the track has passed--which is not a terrible song, but merely feels as if it belongs on a different CD--Bachmann's guttural voice begins to reestablish control. The next track, "Destroyer," is a complete departure from "Twilight Creeps," taking a slow and monotonous route. Unfortunately, it's a weak song, treading a bit too monotonous.
The next three songs, however, cement Dignity and Shame as a great entry into the Crooked Fingers catalog. "You Must Build A Fire" is a quiet and thoughtful offering, very reminiscent of past works, evoking the gorgeously haunting melodies of "She Spread Her Legs and Flew Away," from Crooked Fingers' self-titled album. The next track, "Valerie," is a foot-stomping, upbeat love song that kicks the album into a higher gear, much in the vein of Red Devil Dawn's "Sweet Marie." The Southwestern feel from "Islero" resurfaces in this song and is used to great effect. "Andalucia" keeps that tone going, another track with a faster pace than much of the rest of the album.
In "Sleep All Summer," Meyerratken is used in a much more organic way, showing how best to utilize her singing voice. She pairs up with Bachmann better than on "Twilight Creeps" and keeps her voice keyed lower, softer and more soothing, in a way that fits the album's overall tone.
After the fast beat and loud, tumbling sounds of "Coldways," the album slows down with the final two songs. The title track, which is the final song, is perhaps the finest work of the album. Cautious and contemplative, Bachmann dwells with his lyrics, backed only by a piano for much of the song. "Dignity and Shame" is the perfect closer to the album, beautifully encapsulating the entire work and living up to the promise of the opening track. In the end, I wish that the entire album could have matched the brilliance of the opening and closing songs. If it had, it would truly have been a masterpiece. As it is, though, there are problems in the first half of the album. A couple of weak songs and some incongrous sounds detract from the overall feel of the CD. However, the second half of the album is wonderful, and there are tracks on here that match some of Crooked Fingers' best work. This isn't a perfect album, certainly, but it is a very good one that Crooked Fingers fans would be remiss to ignore and that those unfamiliar with the band's work are encouraged to hear.