Published Oct 14, 2016The line between eerie mysteriousness and downright silliness is compellingly blurred on Sweet Creep, the new LP by beloved alt-country scoundrel Jonny Fritz. Case in point: "I Love Leaving," on which Fritz sings: "Classical music is so clarinet-y, I love meatballs but don't like spaghetti" over jolly yet bluesy guitar strums and a fiddle that sounds like it's groaning at his corny jokes. Meanwhile, the aptly titled closing track "Chihuahua Rescue" — Fritz released two earlier albums under the alias Jonny Corndawg — is a goofily titled tune with equally silly lyrics that essentially amount to a list of canine varieties, all sung and performed in a tone more forlorn than a pup howling at the moon.
Sweet Creep also has songs that are more straightforwardly sad in theme, and more sonically nuanced. Opening track "Are You Thirsty," for instance, boasts some of the most compelling drumming of the year, as that booming yet tinny percussion rumbles behind Fritz's reedy voices as he sings about a muse who is "packing on the pounds" now that she's quit smoking. Then there's "Happy in Hindsight," which has a soulful, borderline Motown-ish groove, rooted in country thanks to faintly braying fiddle notes throughout that grow into a brief but beautiful solo.
The lyrics are direct but effective, as Fritz sings about the desperation of "running out of runway" along with his yearning for triumph: "Standing on the edge of greatness, and I'm just a cup of coffee away." That latter line is the best of many excellent couplets on this astoundingly distinctive album. Indeed, to paraphrase that line, Fritz has clearly gulped down enough that he's surpassed the edge of greatness with Sweet Creep. (ATO Records)