We were introduced to Rich Krueger last year via his EP Overpass (reviewed here) which revealed him as a serious songwriter with razor sharp wit, a sometimes surreal way with words and an excellent ability to blend various musical styles ending up with his own idiosyncratic sound. The EP was a curtain raiser for two planned album releases with Life Ain’t That Long the first to be whelped into the world and a fine pup it turns out to be.
There’s no template for a Krueger song and the album weaves like a drunken sailor with bar room wisdom, tin pan alley pop, country and old fashioned R’n’B all stumbling into view. Sure enough there are shades of Springsteen, Newman, Bukowski and Van Morrison here and there but it’s all filtered through Krueger’s sardonic prism. The album opens with the country styled A Stoopid Broken Heart which sweeps along with pedal steel, fiddle and slide guitar in a glorious manner as Krueger sings as a barfly longing for the bar singer and telling everyone in the saloon about it. The Gospel According To Carl is more mannered, kicking off like a Randy Newman number with Krueger and his piano carrying the melody before the band weigh in and the song swells into a Gospel number. It’s a grand narrative, the protagonist a flashy used car dealer who can charm the pants off the customers having learned his craft as a pretend cripple at his dad’s tent shows. Of course dodgy brakes on a just sold car lead to calamity and his literal downfall as he sits atop a church, sozzled and ready to fly. Meanwhile the guy opportuned for casual sex in a bar in A Short One On Life grows to empathise with his paramour’s plight while Ain’t It So Nice Outside Today inhabits the souls of people who suffer- ill, old, maimed, feeling helpless, yet, despite this parade of horrors, there’s ultimately a sense of optimism by the end. The quest for happiness is investigated in the jazzy What Is It That You Want with Krueger recalling Ben Sidran back in the days.
Krueger seems to delve into his own past on a few songs. ’77/17 is a coming of age tale which recalls a first love and the ongoing flame it ignited, his own American Pie (in both the Don McLean and the movie series sense). Krueger’s teen sex life and the cultural highpoints of 1977 are conjoined in this winning slice of slightly stained urban R’nB grit. The Sex Pistols are one of the cultural touchstones in ’77/17 and Sid Vicious makes an appearance in the schlocky Springsteen like Then Jessica Smiled which is replete with farting sax solos and female harmonies straight from the Brill Building as Krueger looks back on his life, the lyricism here diametrically opposed to the wonderful pastiche that is the music with the song ending with a quote from Bonnie Tyler’s It’s A Heartache. Delicious.
Finally there is the crowning glory that is The Wednesday Boys, a song which truly inhabits the Celtic soul of Van Morrison with Krueger even approximating Morrison’s stream of consciousness delivery. It’s his Brooklyn version of Cypress Avenue and his band here support him with flying colours creating a wonderful neon lit night time ambience, Ed Hopper’s Nighthawks coming to life. We look forward to the promised second album.