Crazy Arm | Dark Hands, Thunderbolts | LP Preview Review | Monday 01 June 2020
ABOVE : Crazy Arm streamed a debut of their fourth LP 'Dark Hands, Thunderbolts' on 25th MAY 2020
“It is not often you get a sneak preview of an album weeks before it's release, but that is the happy place many Crazy Arm fans, myself included, found ourselves in, on the 25 May 2020. The band decided to release a very nearly finished version of this ,their fourth long player, as a streamable only release for just 24 hrs.Was the wait, which still is not over, Worth it? "
It is a resounding yes from me.
It has been seven years since the release of The Southern Wild, and the band themselves are celebrating their 15 yr anniversary this year, so the expectations are understandably high. In a perfect balancing act of a new evolution of the Crazy Arm sound, that takes you by the arm, and dances you through their influences, both audio and visual, and a journey that almost reinvents the band for those who may be unfamiliar with their back catalogue, these songs reward loyal fans and new ones, with a far more comprehensive reimagining than a simple re-fret, action change and restring .
ABOVE : Crazy Arm a committed touring band band sustained by the live experience
The album opens up with Montenegro, and from the off is is clear that they still intend to wear their Appalachian mountain roots on their sleeves. This is a group refreshed and sustained by touring to a very loyal fan base( with founder and frontman Darren often driving other bands when not touring as Warshy or with his own band) and the song ends with the realisation that 'We came this far, we can't go back again”.
It opens bombastically then lulls you on to a false sense of security before an explosive drum fill leads you into another reprise, like the peaks and valleys of the Balkan country it takes it's name from, and then a combo of melodic punches leaves you reeling on the ropes under the joyful assault of an unvarnished almost medieval beautiful brutality.
ABOVE : 'Crazy Arm' played live at Carnglaze Caverns earlier in 2020
Spectacular stuff to open proceedings before moving onto song number two Blessed and Cursed
Already the first few strokes of burnt umber begin to delineate the desert landscape that most reflects this albums sound. It is a sound that fills your head with the vistas of Sergio Leone and the towering edifices of rock that lined John Fords paeans to the old west. Lovely harmonies from Becky Saxton, and then Simon Dobsons mournful Flugel Horn picks out the orange back light before the cavalry come charging thru. Fierce and resonant twin guitars that recall the best of Lizzy, (Maiden , Wishbone Ash etc), give the track an insistent and easy to return to melodic heart that will make it shine in a live setting.
ABOVE : Becky Saxton of Crazy Arm
Then almost as a reminder of the folk roots that often informed the blues, country and rock sounds that became loosely labelled 'Americana' the third track, already part of their acoustic set Brave starts here introduces those who have not heard it, to the mother of all hoe downs.
ABOVE : Darren Johns of Crazy Arm channels the wild westcountry of the UK thru this LP
All pretences of not being the Crazy's Panavision debut are dropped now, and FEAR Up reveals itself as Red Dead Redemption if it were a song. Sergio Leone needs to direct the video and Ennio Morricone should orchestrate it. There is at the heart of this piece, a dusty vintage guitar sound, so old you can almost feel and smell the heat of the valves illuminating the burning dust motes. It is clear now that this is an album that leads you back thru time, in a virtual reality tour of the writers vinyl collection. Each cover and sleeve, every footnote poured over, all that love is in this re-telling. The horn is back and you want to stay there with the band, poncho and all, and just savour that cigar as you open each gate-fold, and free the smell of old paper.
It is like pre cowboy hoborock. Lynott tried it, and a few other rock bands, some of whom thought it was just a case of putting a different hat on, but Crazy Arm nail it, spurs, saddle, bean can and all. There is enough of this old country (Britain) Europe and (Ireland) the island next to us, to inform the boots of each stories roots ,and it just reeks of the wilderness and it's tales,by a writer in Darren Johns that has bravely, if somewhat scarily, devoted himself to authenticity. This is not weekend recreation, it is a life's work and it shows.
ABOVE : Darren Johns from 'Crazy Arm'
Interlude: Dearborn continues the same western theme, and by the time you arrive here, it almost breaks you. Beautiful Fiddle playing by co-writer Sam Spake, a recollection and evocation no less compelling for it's eschewing of words. It paints a vivid tale still.
There is a strong political/social conscience and awareness that fuels the fire underneath this band, and the prescient song The Golden Hind demonstrates how to do so without becoming hackneyed , cynical or in love with the smell of your own bean fuelled farts. A cautionary tale that destroys any misguided belief that rewriting history in sentimental hues is painting a picture that has anything to do with reality. Again another widescreen cinematic piece, the seafaring shanty like chorus, does nothing to quell the storm, or quiet the savageness of this song. It is not taking any prisoners.
“I've been running for forever Over mountains, over dunes From the corporation fumes ” reminds me of Ron Angels 'The Chemical Song ' in that the company is by it's very nature, without heart and empathy, the very thing that Johns returns to again and again in his songwriting, wrestling with the brutality of men.
ABOVE : Crazy Arm live in Plymouth last year
It is that same rebuke to those who mistake empathy for weakness and open hearts as an invitation to kneel, that runs thru Loose Lips. It opens up with John Dailey 's slapped/punched bass, a cameo like cameo maybe inspired by Johns recently playing bass with local technicolour space cadets Tripper, in a song Epic again but this time in a Faith No More way, and another trip down memory lane, but this time maybe to Confrontation Camp and even Spleen, where that punchy spat like delivery is also present in the lead vocal.
ABOVE : Crazy Arm at full steam
Mow the Sward with the line “Listen to Guthrie, listen to Crass I'll ride the railroad back to the past “confirms the hunch I had that this is an invitation to explore the roots of the band itself and it's songwriter, ( there is a very explicit nod to a classic punk riff at 2:32) and the same unbridled joy felt on the footplate of a train at full steam is back in a truly southern way. For me the best thing I can honestly say, hand on heart, about this album, is that It sounds like the band The Foo Fighters wish they could be.
And you will know us by the trail of meds Is not the tale of a reformed ageing band back on the road with arthritis, but more about Darren and everyone's battles with mental health. It has that Bay area thrash fierceness to the riffs in the intro, and the speed, which rarely slows is at times beyond frantic . It sounds like a jump cut looks. This is high energy action painting in which the chords are thrown at the wall with real venom as though the song was the embodiment of Lionel Dobie the inspired abstract painter played by Nick Nolte in Scorcese's New York story 'Life Lessons'.
ABOVE : Crazy Arm will launch their new album later this year
And then just as the almost claustrophobic internal monologue has hemmed you in Interlude: Paradiso pushes Simon Dobson centre stage and suggests again a panoramic experience, bringing the dust storm and tumbling brush weed back. You can also hear Dartmoor and the hills of Britain in those plaintiff notes, mist wreathed and transient as old as them there hills.
Epicurean Firestorm is a mournful heartbreaking song that beats you up by drowning you in empathy in the same way the experienced 'floating fighter' bides his time whilst his younger opponent tires himself out and struggles to rise above the cortisol. This is a true veteran of the war against the bastards and it shows. Brilliantly constructed the lick is a pure Celtic folk riff turned up to 11. The violin provides a powerful undertow that lassos the wild beast, and helps pull the animal to safety, but still the shape shifts like a horse bucking and writhing, before panting and exhausted it stands calm and still, steaming in the dying light.
BELOW : Crazy Arm, thay sound like a wild horse trying to throw you into a pond
It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that the violence is unrelenting, but Howl of the heart , does nothing to disavow me of that notion. This is going to be a hell of an album to tour, that will require not just emotional, but real physical stamina . It is is a barrage of blows pouring out at a frightening volume and with great variety, You can not second guess where the blows are coming from for one minute. If the howl of a heart is both a raging bull and an open road, then this is no Jake Lamotta 15 rounder, but rather a chase across a snowy landscape with werewolves breathing down your back. That is not to say this is simple stuff ,it is not, there is nuance and subtlety, even pop touches in there with the brutal hammering of sledgehammers shaping the iron of the rail upon which this journey rides.
ABOVE : Crazy Arm smashing it
Final song Health is in you with the brilliant line 'Man you got to woman up' is a great reminder, not only of the unfaded genius that is Broken by the Wheel from the debut LP Born to Ruin, but also a timely reminder that we all need to grow and learn, and change is about as healthy as it gets. This feminine energy runs thru the song and there is a lovely falsetto refrain toward the end reminding us of how important words and just what we say really are.
Dark Hands,Thunderbolts is an album about renewal that bodes well for a recharged and vibrant reborn Crazy Arm, and this is surely just one of the new anthems that mark it out as a train long awaited by a platform of eager travellers.
Let us hope that the chance to hear it in full live, at whatever station we find ourselves at, is not to far up the track.
ABOVE : Crazy Arm will be back
Crazy Arm are taking donations to get the LP finished. It's a financially tough time for all of us, including muscians like these guys and gals with no gigs on the horizon.
You can support them here
Whatever you donate will be knocked off any purchase. If you donate more than the album price, you'll get it for free, Like a pre-order but with trust instead of a contract
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