Crooked Fingers: Red Devil Dawn

Crooked Fingers: Red Devil Dawn

Eric Bachmann's transition from frontman of one of indie rock's most beloved bands into a singer of timeless, world-weary ballads has gone largely unnoticed by the college-rock hordes that scooped up Archers Of Loaf's albums in the mid-'90s. That hasn't stopped him from releasing three terrific discs that ought to please the same people who appreciate the doleful strangeness of Tom Waits, the darker side of Johnny Cash, or the very throat of Neil Diamond. Red Devil Dawn, Bachmann's third album under the name Crooked Fingers, breathes in the spirit of those influences but exhales something new: Instead of making him a fan, his songs make him a peer. Red Devil Dawn doesn't stray far from its terrific predecessors (2000's Crooked Fingers and 2001's Bring On The Snakes), though subtle changes set it apart. Some of the songs—particularly the drunken-stumble through Margaritaville of "Sweet Marie"—have a jauntiness that Bachmann hasn't attempted before, though it isn't served straight. A lazy, Latin-sounding horn section gives way to the opening line, "Drinking sparkling wine and sniffing glue / I've been looking for some soft abuse." It's playfully dark, and provides a counter-measure to Red Devil Dawn's more bleakly beautiful, world-gone-wrong moments. The brilliant album-opener "Big Darkness" and the stark "Boy With (100) Hands" are fables more in line with past Crooked Fingers releases: The former tells the tale of a dead town that can only be saved by a hero who will "blow away the sun." What sets Red Devil Dawn apart, though, is a sense of personalized tragedy that Bachmann hasn't addressed much before: The album's final moments are a creepy one-two punch that leaves a shiver behind, with "Carrion Doves" and "Disappear" treading some of the same sad ground as Beck's remarkable Sea Change. In the end, both records make loss palpable and beautiful.

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