Crooked Fingers: Reservoir Songs

Crooked Fingers: Reservoir Songs

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Crooked Fingers

Album: Reservoir Songs
Label: Merge

When Crooked Fingers or Mark Eitzel cover a song, the results sound pretty similar to their own works. Crooked Fingers' Eric Bachmann has had a beer-caught-in-the-windpipe voice since his days as the frontman for Archers Of Loaf, and with his new project, he's reduced his vocal range to a low strain that suits the style in which he's mired himself for two consecutive albums. Crooked Fingers' Reservoir Songs collects five muted covers of classic pop songs: Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down," Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," Prince's "When U Were Mine," Bruce Springsteen's "The River," and the Queen/David Bowie collaboration "Under Pressure." The results give each composition the same minimalist, banjo-and-brushed-drums arrangement, but this little stopgap EP may actually be the best work of Crooked Fingers' short career. Bachmann's own songs have terrific lyrics, but they tend to miss the energy, inventiveness, and melody that Archers Of Loaf had in surplus. Forced to modify his current sound to meet the tunefulness of his chosen covers, Bachmann achieves a new spirit of generosity. He doesn't transform the songs; the songs transform him. The same is true to an extent with Mark Eitzel's covers disc Music For Courage & Confidence, except that what the former American Music Club leader does to Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" can only be described as revelatory: He takes a piece of bubblegum and finds its acid base, using electronic pulses and a hoarse whisper to convert the song into a plea. The stung tone of "Hurt Me" and Eitzel's simmering cover of "Ain't No Sunshine" should make it plain that the album's title isn't meant to be indicative of its contents' uplifting qualities. Most of its 10 tracks are quiet and winsomely melancholy—Eitzel's dominant mode of expression—and the titular "courage and confidence" has more to do with the pleasure of a singer-songwriter successfully submerging himself in someone else's song. That said, Music For Courage & Confidence has remarkable flow for an album full of songs that have mostly been covered multiple times ("Help Me Make It Through The Night," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Gentle On My Mind"). The record is light and smooth, and when he hits the one-two-three punch of "More More More," "Move On Up," and "Rehearsals For Retirement" in the second half, the mood becomes ecstatic.