Monday, 16 September 2013

CRAZY ARM - ALBUM REVIEW

Crazy Arm - The Southern Wild (Xtra Mile Recordings) 
Crazy Arm - The Southern Wild

Release Date: 23rd September 2013

What do you when your band's line up is more changeable than a politician's ethics and you're best known for your blistering anarcho punk live sets? You gather a gaggle of musicians around a campfire and record an acoustic album dripping in musical, political and ideological influences from the past, ooh, 200 years or so. Plymouth's finest sons and daughters, Crazy Arm, are back with album number three which has been touted as 'the acoustic one' but I'd rather see it as a natural step in the bands evolution, allowing them to explore a more delicate, thoughtful and considered approach to music making whilst retaining the raw power and emotion that has made them so popular thus far.

The album opens with Vicky Butterfield showing off her soulful side with a lung busting a cappella rendition of 'Oh Death' which slides effortlessly in to the mournful country'n'western twang of 'Hell To Pay' which really ought to have featured on the Django Unchained soundtrack had there been any justice in the world. The gentle picking and pitch perfect vocal harmonies that welcome in 'Remembrance' feel distinctly un-Crazy Arm but, fear not, it's not before the acoustic strumming takes a menacing turn and the lyrics show their true, ideological colours; "There is a war but only one side has all the anger, has all the motive to rise and conquer". And then comes the intense Banjo twang of 'Don't Be Cruel' that transports you back to a rowdy Westcountry tavern where a fierce wind whips at the door and the horses huddle for warmth but inside stories are told, reputations are made and a good time is had by one and all. It is Crazy Arm's ability, nay, courage to cherry pick the best in organic music and ideas from throughout the centuries whilst still applying their own wax seal that makes them such a compelling outfit on many levels.

Album Launch Party
Butterfield's soothing vocals are back on 'Fossils', a lament that has a sense of pleading or begging about it despite possibly the simplest arrangement on the album as a strummed guitar and gently plucked Banjo are the only bed for the implored words to lie on. There is a definite darkness to this album, a sense of foreboding and frustration runs through the melodies which is pierced only occasionally by the more uplifting tunes such as 'County Jaws' but even then the urgency of the song doesn't allow much relief from the intensity. Indeed, the Manzarek-ish organ onslaught is so unrelenting that it feels a little like trying to run through shallow water and in to a head wind - you know you're moving forward but you're not sure how or why. As you might expect from the title, 'The Wild Cats of Denbury', has an almost medieval melody and you can imagine such tunes ringing out on a dark winter's night round at Chaucer's place. More to the point I can't imagine many other bands around these days being brave enough to attempt such a tune, and none of them would follow it up with the rambunctious folk punk stomp of 'Roasting River'.

Now, I defy anyone with a soul not to fall in love 'A Pocket Full Of Gold' within moments. The rich, warm guitar work accompanied by the brutally honest words of self reflection will surely chime with most of us. Darren Johns' gravelly yet smooth vocal delivery is so perfectly raw and honest for this kind of song that it brings to mind the likes of Billy Bragg (but with more melody) or Elvis Costello (but with more passion). 'We Don't Go There Anymore' shows off the folky leanings of the collective and Patrick James Pearson's fiddle playing is as smooth and warming as a fine dram of whiskey on the first cold day of winter. If there was ever any doubt of Crazy Arm's roots, the sea shanty-esque vocals of Johns on 'The Valley Of Weeping' sung over a solitary, sweeping drone could only ever have ever come from the South Western corner of this island. Album closer, 'Black Canyon', is wondrously layered and shows how Crazy Arm have grown as musicians. The thumping Piano in the distance is perfect counterweight to the plucked guitar of unsung hero Jon Dailey and harmonious vocals that flirt and tease with each other as the song undulates like the grey sea off the Cornish coast. The Piano coda from Pearson is, again, dripping in melancholy and regret which is a hugely brave way to end any album.

For me, this is an intriguing, challenging and engaging collection of songs that will not only stand the test of time but which will also compliment the ferocity of the rest of the band's back catalogue. More importantly though, this album feels like it should be played in the camp the night before a big battle where many men know they are preparing to meet their maker or face their destiny; a calm before the storm if you will. A band like Crazy Arm will always be carrying the fight to the rest of the world but in this case you feel like they are reflecting the mood of world and mirroring the fact we should all be preparing to stand up to fight for what we believe in.  


More information:  www.facebook.com/thecrazyarm

Live Dates:
17 Sept – The Corner House, Cambridge (with Sam Russo)
18 Sept – Santiagos, Leeds (w/regional support)
19 Sept – The Lounge Bar, Warrington (w/regional support)
21 Sept – The Stanley Arms, Norwich (w/Crowns)
22 Sept – Fighting Cocks, Kingston (w/Smith Street Band + Great Cynics)

27 Sept – White Rabbit, Plymouth (w/The PJP Band + Dammerels + Big Fin)

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