Monday, July 12, 2010

John Craigie - Montana Tale (2010)

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Hearing John Craigie's solo live shows left me a little unprepared for the masterfully full sounds of his latest full length Montana Tale. Beginning with a banjo and violin intro on "Gone", John Craigie's voice delicately enters, persuading you politely to keep listening. The oom-pah bass and bluegrassy violin flourishes wouldn't be out of place in old style fiddle music but Craigie manages to combine acoustic with the electric to create an amazing folk track and album opener that hooks you with its uptempo and busy-but-not-distracting nature. "As Tragic" takes the tempo down a couple notches, so Craigie can deliver his bittersweet serenade that's a bit melancholic but also rather uplifting. Bluesy "Labor Day" reminded me of John's live shows with it's kind of tongue-in-cheek opening lyrics "On Labor Day, I quit my job" and harmonica fills. It's another combination of acoustic and electric and has a "Devil Went Down to Georgia" type epic quality. The balladic "Will Not Fight" has a sort of completeness which could've been the album closer, which had me wondering where Craigie could possibly go next. The response: "Mama Nashville". The harmonica-heavy track is bound to put a smile on your face with its devil-may-care delivery and virtuostic displays. "28" brings the album down again, with its allusions galore, and barely-there piano and violin providing a blanket of accompaniment to John's sorrowful vocals. The only way to describe "Easter Sunday" might be epic, unsurprising considering its subject matter is Jesus' rise but aided more by the almost dizzying array of instruments employed by the end of the song. By the time "Resurrection Bay" started, I had heard more harmonica than I had in my whole entire life but the harmonica solos really helped to set up the mood and remain unique. "Anna Rose (Part IV)" with is violin-heavy arrangement, is a toe-tapping, motivational, and purely entertaining all at once. When he declares: "Quit your job, sell your car, tell that fool that you live with that you don't want to live here anymore/Bring your banjo and I'll teach you how to play 'cause it's never too late", you really want to do all those things and join him. The "All Through Montana" is nearly 9 minutes long, and strips all of the ornate arrangement away to feature John Craigie's vocals accompanied by strummed guitar and beat keeping bass drum. About 3/4 in the song becomes an virtuostic showcase for the electric guitar. Summery "Map of Dallas" brings the tour-inspired album to an artful crowd, describing the feeling of being on the road and looking forward to returning home where the locals know and love you.

While there's so much done right on Montana Tale, my favorite part is probably John Craigie's lyricism. He manages to slip these little genius nuggets into each of his songs, that you might notice on your first listen but become more apparent with each listen. Included is John's countdown's and the like, which really helps to infuse the album with more personality. You might not have heard of John Craigie but he's certainly no amateur. His music is remarkably well written, the instruments amazingly well-played. His album doesn't come with a booklet of lyrics, but fortunately you won't need them. Craigie's voice on every song is as clear as a bell which says alot about the production quality, as well as Craigie's own vocal talent.

Here's a sneak peek at the album with a live solo acoustic version of "Anna Rose (Part IV):

You can listen to more of John Craigie at his MySpace or listen and buy his album here.

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