REVIEW by Natahan Turk
As the cellist and guitarist for the Gonstermachers, Leo Crandall has helped craft some of the most downright haunting and original Americana we’ve heard. I, Murderer ups the haunting factor further, if that’s possible: There’s less recognizable blues and more song-specific orchestration using more instruments.
Fellow Gonstermachers Curtis Waterman (harmonica), Hymie Withoft (drums, percussion) and Richard Curry (washtub, vocals) lend hands here, as do a halfdozen others on such unconventional-but-mesmerizing animals as hurdy gurdy (Mike Fierce) and accordion (Bob Alexander). Crandall accompanies his own playing—on guitar, cello, bass violin and requinto—with his own baritone croon, which brings to mind Mark Lanegan in the way it conveys both world-weary reflection and smoky rapture. There’s some Tom Waits and Nick Cave in there, too, but whereas Waits is big on old-weird-America imagery and Cave likes descanting spirituality, Crandall’s themes usually deal in some way with transcendence. A sparrow flies out of the blackness; souls rise on a column of air; a trumpet is heard from angels; a ruthless dream bears down in the night, like a hawk, eyeing its mark. The lyrics are no afterthought here—lines like “now the blossoms have lost all their color/ champagne has dried in the sand/ I have laid down all of my burdens/with the last bit of warmth from my hands” could probably have only come from a guy who graduated summa cum laude with an English degree. (Crandall did.) And while it’s not always totally clear what the meaning is behind the symbology, I, Murderer only asks that you let it transport you, which it does—with strange, old-rooted, sepia-toned, sometimes bewildering majesty. Truly, you need to check this out if Waits, Cave or 16 Horsepower (or, of course, the Gonstermachers) speak to your musical tastes. (Oh, and the illustrated lyrics at www.leocrandall.com are awesome. Just sayin’.)