It’s just over a year ago that Blabber’n’Smoke stumbled across Rich Krueger, a man who has become our second favourite singing doctor (Hank Wangford is still No. 1, sorry, Rich). Krueger is a working medicine man in Chicago but he’s had a contemporaneous career as a musician with his band The Dysfunctionells (with the album title relating to this weird yin/yan) and in the past 18 months he’s launched himself solo with a vengeance, even attracting the attention of the self styled “Dean of critics, Robert Christgau. NOWThen is his second album in less than a year following on from the splendid Life Ain’t That Long and, as with its predecessor, NOWThen is a wonderfully meandering set of grand songs.
Krueger is an astute observer of human behaviour and he writes about it much in the way of wayward souls such as Randy Newman and Terry Allen. And although he fits somehow into the American folk scene being a winner at the 2018 Kerrville Folk Festival, the album veers through rootsy numbers spiced with Dobro and swirling organ, piano based jaunts, Asian exotica and Mariachi stylings. At heart however is his razor sharp observation which he translates into wordy yet incredibly enjoyable songs. The best example might be the coming of age tale Don where Krueger weaves a fantastic(al) tale of a teenage buddy who was a “contrarian,” an admirer of Nietzsche and Hitler although most of his classmates were Jews. The song flows along with a fine fiddle fuelled country swirl as Krueger’s words spill out – almost a screenplay in miniature – as he just about diagnoses Don as a sociopath before breaking down what one should imagine as an aural equivalent of theatre’s fourth wall as he asks, “Did I entertain you?” as the song ends.
Krueger can delve into history, singing about the Wright Brothers or Huey P. Long, the songs part story, part surreal. Then there’s his own experiences as on the opening song, Kenny’s (It’s Always Christmas In this Bar), dedicated to his local watering hole and delivered in a manner which, should Billy Joel ever hear it, have him weeping, as Krueger plays a doo wop flavoured piano led pop song which knocks Mr. Joel for six. The Cajun flavoured O What a Beautiful Beautiful Day is a warts and all depiction of the trial and tribulations of giving birth with Krueger noting that, on a chance encounter with Tom Waits, Waits’ advised him to, “Write about what you know,” and Krueger, being a neo natal doc, knows all about the bloody mess which surrounds a delivery. Elsewhere, Wittgenstein, Pope and Robert Browning are springboards for songs but pride of place here might go to Girls Go For Arse’oles, an apology of sort for most males’ behaviours towards the opposite sex with the title borrowed from Robert Crumb.
With a cast of players which include Robbie Fulks, Gary Lucas, John Fulbright and Peter Stampfel, the album is expansive and eclectic (there’s even a mock advert with the Colbert Report’s Erik Frandsen voicing Krueger). When Blabber’n’Smoke first noticed Krueger we said he was a maverick and NOWThen kind of confirms that but it’s important to say here that he’s an incredibly talented maverick.