In which a 58 year-old paediatrician from the US cobbles together his debut album (!) out of various folk-country-gospel-rock-R&B-jazz combinations. It works, partly because it’s so excellently produced and performed, but mostly because he writes his ass off and sings his vignettes in a style that evokes so many of the great singers from Van Morrison to Randy Newman.
Ironically, considering the album’s title, it can feel a little long (average track length is over 5 minutes), but Krueger uses the spaces in his songs to flesh out the many intriguing details. From past lovers to a car salesman to Sid Vicious and all the way back to Emperor Nero, his wit and perception can illuminate just about any character who wanders into the path of his keen writer’s gaze. Plus when he describes the year 1977 in “’77/17”, when he fucked it up with a perfect girl called Nancy, the setting feels as alive as any of his characters; everything he calls to our attention from the Bee Gees to “Susan Sarandon’s perfect tits” combine to paint a portrait of the past that reverberates with cynicism. And if you don’t get the decidedly bitter picture from the words then a rumbling, angry sax solo is there to help you understand.
Indeed, most of the musical touches manage to support the drama of the stories, and the overall ambition of the album is impressive. Girl group pop that’s been passed through the medium of Bruce Springsteen is evoked on “Then Jessica Smiled”; one of Van Morrison’s 70s live epics seems to ignite the spirit of the 7-minute “The Wednesday Boys”; some of The Band’s slower numbers (perhaps most of all “Unfaithful Servant”) bubble up to the surface of “What We Are”; Marvin Gaye and “Amazing Grace” are prominently quoted, both times for a good reason. With the exception of a female chorus that sentimentalises more than it energises, particularly on the icky (to my ears) “Can’t See Me in This Light”, all of Krueger’s choices sound magical. A violin that weaves its way in and out of many of the songs? Especially so.
I can only thank Robert Christgau for introducing me to yet another ace singer-songwriter, whose work I shall now follow for life. This is special, enlightening, and entertaining. I want more.