Rich Krueger. NOWThen. RockinK Music

Final_NOWTHEN_Final_cover_hi_resIt’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.

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Rich Krueger. Life Ain’t That Long. RockInk Music

richkrueger6We 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.

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Rich Krueger. Overpass

Krueger coverWe do love our mavericks here at Blabber’n’Smoke, folk who approach music from a slightly different angle and Rich Krueger seems to fit that bill. He was a member of The Dysfunctionells (who described themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) and who recorded at various times with Peter Stampfel and Michael Hurley, so, a good maverick pedigree there.

Krueger, who works as a neo natal doctor in Chicago, is readying two solo albums for release and this EP is a foretaste of what’s to come. Recently he was a finalist in the New Folk category at The Kerrville Folk Festival and Overpass opens with the fine fiddle fuelled A Short One On Life, a song about a female barfly who picks up strangers in bars. With gritty lyrics, Krueger describes her hard life, nights spent with, “one night wonder(s) with a heart of gold and a name for his cock that no thinking person would ever even name a dog” before some slide guitar from Seth Lee Jones adds some muscle to the song. In Between, Kingfish is a powerful song about homelessness with Krueger weaving Huey P. Long (AKA The Kingfish) and Sam Walton (founder of Walmart and born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma) into the tale, contrasting their respective philosophies. Over a lachrymose fiddle and weeping accordion (played by John Fullbright) Krueger achingly highlights the plight of the underprivileged and ends the song with a surreal vision of Long and Walton sitting in an abandoned car beside a derelict Walmart with Woody Guthrie and Franklin Roosevelt for company. A potent symbol for the death of the New Deal.

Next up Krueger takes a sharp turn on Yesterday’s Wrong (Green) which is coloured by tablas, sarangi, tanpura and kanjira giving it an undeniable Indian sound. It rambles for over six minutes in exotic fashion as Krueger seems to lament the loss of innocence that permeated the sixties and the ecological nightmare we all face. Recalling Donovan or The Incredible String Band it’s hypnotic. What Are We is perhaps the most straightforward song here in terms of its delivery as Krueger offers up a Randy Newman like piano song with soulful vocal backing. Here he sings of Nero setting Rome alight and suggests similarities with his present day President. A hidden song at the end, Kerrville, Oh My Kerrville, written back in 1991, finds Krueger with acoustic guitar identifying with his idols, musical and otherwise, on a humorous take on the festival which is somewhat tongue in cheek but stuffed full of arresting images.

It’s a tremendous listen and it bodes well for the forthcoming albums. You can buy the EP here

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