When I first encountered Craig’s music it was via the refreshingly raw, honest and self-deprecating country-punk meets frantic folk collision of last years We Humans album. And if within that that wonderfully raw musical landscape of satire and sympathy, profanity and profundity the spirit of such mercurial artists as Tom Waits, Frank Zappa and the much overlooked Bob Log III lurked in the corners, here they act as a spiritual steering group.
And in the same why that Craig previously deconstructed, twisted, wilfully broke and then reassembled country music into stark new shapes, here he does the same job of stripping down and retuning any number of other genres from folk to country to indie and from rock to blues to pop and everything in between. If lazy journalists, like me, revel in our labels and pigeon-holes, Cradlerock will prove to be our undoing, existing in a place either way beyond generic borders or perhaps where they all collide and destroy each other, I haven’t quite worked out which yet and putting it into adequate words is often tough.
Holisticism will tell you that you can start anywhere and it will lead you to the right conclusion, so let’s start with the fact that there is a strange synchronicity at work from time to time, especially with the inclusion of the antique standard Big Rock Candy Mountain, a hobo’s dream of paradise which the character Rudy sings in William Kennedy’s depression era classic novel Ironweed. In the film that character is played by none other than Tom Waits! Coincidence? Well, probably but interesting none the less.
Interesting because it is the Waitsian pulse more than any other, which beats at the heart of this madcap musical adventure. There is the same feeling of being at a ramshackle apocalyptic carnival surrounded by circus freaks and tents filled with warped mirrors. There is also a strange sense of musical hall nostalgia, like the orchestra pit of an otherworldly theatrical show that seems to exist in a strange dimension were Clive Barker meets The Muppet show.
The music seems to serve as a sort of sonic Rorschach test, the industrial grind of Ear Bastards making me see car plants, the skittering sounds of The Tea Room conjuring bugs on a night light. You have a go…it’s fun. There are times when Craig is happy to sail better-charted waters and the brilliantly named Smoakumifyagottam is a raw, garage rock rabble-rouser that could have easily found its way on to a Gun Club or Bad Seeds album. Mainly, however, he likes to subvert expectation and it is this arch-eclecticism, which holds everything together.
You put one weird song on a conventional album and it is a gimmick. Two such songs and you reveal yourself as having had a short inspirational flash but then nothing to follow it up. A fifty-fifty split of convention and conviction shows schizophrenia in the song writing process. A whole album of songs that wander such uncompromising pathways with only fleeting contact with the tried and tested approach to form and function and you know that the artist in question is doing something outstandingly original. And CradleRock is nothing if not outstandingly original….not to mention humorous, self-deprecating, weird, brilliant, disarming, raw, honest, satirical, mad and everything else that goes with the glorious territory of being a total outsider.