Crooked Fingers Red Devil Dawn

Eric Bachmann's third proper Crooked Fingers album ought to further galvanise the former Archers of Loaf front-man's reputation as one of the most gifted songwriters among the veteran college rock crowd. Whereas previous releases have found Bachmann switching back and forth between a gravelly, throaty vocal routine and a softer mellow style of delivery, Red Devil Dawn contains nary a trace of the latter. All the gruff stuff is honed and mitigated, however, by a bevy of horn and string arrangements, the likes of which were only hinted at on Crooked Fingers' previous studio outings. Though lush by the band's own low-fi standards, most of these ten tracks are spacious enough to afford plenty of cerebral legroom. Lyrically, Bachmann's pen is at its most eloquent and profound, further distinguishing him as an artist that gets better with each successive work. Better doesn't mean brighter though, as Bachmann wends down dark thematic lanes through town after town without pity and past the drawn curtains of former friends and long dead lovers. Bachmann has developed a penchant for juxtaposing his words of woe with lighter, even uplifting arrangements, at times, an approach best exemplified on tracks like "You Can Never Leave" and "You Threw A Spark." As such, much of Red Devil Dawn is informed by a kind of bittersweet, seemingly contrary duality the likes of which is well represented by the title of the disc's closing track, "Carrion Doves." (Merge)