Cranky George - 'Fat Lot of Good'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Cranky George, a quirky indie folk rock outfit currently based out of Los Angeles. This Friday, October 14, they will be releasing their debut studio endeavor, a record called ‘Fat Lot of Good.’ The fourteen song collection has been quite awhile in the making, too; the band cites the project taking over five years to complete. It’s on the horizon, though, and the Spotlight has early access to it. Is it worth grabbing this Friday? Let’s dig in and find out.

Cranky George has a very different blend of ‘folk’ music. It’s not necessarily inspired by American folk music, so there’s a separation between Cranky George and something like, say, Mumford & Sons. (Granted, Mumford isn’t necessarily folk, either, but it is the representation of the genre in the contemporary landscape.) Rather, Cranky George seems to be more directly inspired by European folk music. There’s a heavy aura of French gypsy music, something amplified in a splendid way via the accordion performance. (This, of course, can be found in the South in places like New Orleans here in the States.)

‘Tunnel of Love’ opens up ‘Fat Lot of Good’ with a very gypsy-like track. It’s actually a bit jazzy, and most certainly danceable. The lyricism is especially sharp, evoking fantastical imagery of a woman wandering a theme park of love - each ride is another failed love, and eventually, she’s just meandering the park with mascara running down her face. The sonic tapestry that Cranky George crafts around those lyrics is abundantly vivid, making their music gripping from the first verse.

Musical diversity is apparent early into this collection, which is an important factor in its success. ‘Perfect Skin,’ for example, layers its landscape quite extensively, even incorporating some harmonies and progressive rock-esque composition elements. In some ways, ‘Perfect Skin’ is a progressive rock folk track. This is immediately contrasted by ‘Katyusha,’ a very European-style folk tune that’s absolutely lovely. The execution of ‘Katyusha’ is one of the most memorable on the album; it’s so well written.

‘Greenland’s Ice’ is another unique track, one that sheds contemporary lyrical themes for a good ole’ song at sea, if you will. It’s heavily reminiscent of the kind of Celtic and Irish music that acts like Flogging Molly have championed over the last fifteen years. Cranky George is especially poignant when they’re tackling traditionally styled lyricism like ‘Greenland’s Ice.’

‘Misery Road’ is a sonic crossroad on the record, a fascinating shift that divides itself from its predecessors. The track seems to have a different vocalist, one that employs a much more Americanized vocal style, akin to outlaw country western or the like. Even the lyricism is much more American, talking about fueling up trucks and driving into the sunset. ‘Waltz In Blue’ is somewhat similar in this regard, and feels very separate from tunes like ‘Tunnel of Love’ and ‘Katyusha.’ Since these two songs are together in the sequencing, though, they complement one another nicely.

‘Yes!’ shifts the tone of ‘Fat Lot of Good’ back toward the kind of sound that Cranky George introduced in their opening tunes. It’s a much more uplifting song, at least lyrically, than ‘Tunnel of Love.’ It’s a joyful romp through harmonies, melodic composition, and good feelings. It’s a tune about a marriage proposal that actually doesn’t come across as campy or cliche, which I laud Cranky George for. Their collective musical personality is just so likable.

As if Cranky George couldn’t get more eclectic, you’ll arrive upon ‘Sausage Moon’ and be greeted with a track sung in entirely Spanish. (I believe it’s Spanish. It’s a Romance language. I'm awful with any language that isn't English, I'll wholly admit.) It’s definitely a peculiar inclusion, given that the tracks preceding it are all in English. In it’s own odd way, though, ‘Sausage Moon’ works with its English counterparts. ‘No Me Quitte Pas,’ a tune that’s sung in English, bookends ‘Sausage Moon’ perfectly with its splendid violin performance.

Despite being based in California, I think Cranky George needs to make their way east into Louisiana. ‘Fat Lot of Good’ is a record that would be perfectly at home in New Orleans. I suspect that Cranky George are also quite an exciting live act, and again, this kind of intensity and musical style has New Orleans written all over it. I will say, though, that ‘The Bones’ is the weaker link of the album. It’s a perfectly decent track, but it doesn’t harness the kind of magic that the tracks surrounding it do. Its structure isn’t as compelling.

‘All the Rivers in the World’ is a pea in a pod with ‘Greenland’s Ice.’ It’s very traditionally inspired, and again, Cranky George thrives in that territory. The track is immediately eclipsed by ‘Summer Dress,’ however, one of the absolute best tracks on the album. On ‘Summer Dress,’ Cranky George infused their sound with doo-wop inspirations. It’s absolutely masterful, and it has an edge that gives it a Bruce Springsteen-like sound, too. (Seriously, listen to ‘Summer Dress’ and then go spin ‘Ain’t Good Enough For You.’ There’s a massive parallel to be drawn.)

The finale of the album, ‘Nighttime,’ builds like a Phil Spector track to a remarkably intense, beautiful ending. It pulls some of those doo-wop vibes out of ‘Summer Dress’ to great effect, too. To that extent, I’d argue the sequencing does do an excellent job of pairing sounds together throughout the experience. Cranky George couldn't have picked a better closer than 'Nighttime.'

This record is simply wonderful. Go get it on Friday, and grab a CD or record before they sell out. This would be very worth owning on vinyl, especially since the band is hand signing a limited press.