Constantly reviewing new albums does have its downside, especially as it seldom allows the time to reflect upon or backtrack to albums reviewed in the past. So always a pleasant treat when a new offering allows the opportunity to dig out a band’s back catalogue. In the case of Edinburgh based collective Crooked Mouth this begins with their self-titled debut from 2003 followed four years later by Hold In The Sun (2007). Catching up is not entirely the case here though, as the band’s debut does enjoy regular plays, although sadly I seem to have mislaid my copy of Hold In The Sun.
So before moving on to the new album, time to look back on the first album and, as is always the case when it comes out of the CD rack, it is a welcome and enjoyable experience. There are some cracking tracks on this album and none more than the delicate and mournful Acrobat…
But its now time to move forward twelve years for the release of the new album, One Bright Midnight. I was pleased, given the gap, that the band have remained fairly intact. Guitarist and composer Ken Campbell remains at the helm along with Kenny Haig on lead vocals, and the delightful Lynne Campbell and Eilidh Maclean, (I’m presuming that this is the same Eilidh under her married name), on support vocals. Drummer Tony Hodge also remains and on keyboards, Ali(son) Mitchell, who played flute on the debut album. Changes as far as I can see are in bass department and with guest musician Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett band) on saxophone.
Now some band’s boldly display their progressive influences, whilst some, as is the case with Crooked Mouth, are less overt, treading a difficult to pigeon-hole mixture of melodic mainstream rock, symphonic stylings and ambient electronic/found-sound effects. The catchy, upbeat nature of the material often belies the stronger messages within the lyrics, so as with previous releases, it is an album that gradually unfolds its depths.
One Bright Midnight is more muscular than previous releases and opener Rage pretty much captures much the band’s sound, cocooned in this beefier styling. An edgy, but catchy guitar riff is pulsed by the rhythm section, whilst Kenny Haig’s rich voice is complemented by the Q&A female support vocals. The middle section incorporates a simple, but effective keyboard line, before the more urgent guitar takes the track to an instrumental conclusion. The less heavy, at times almost American sounding AOR, Breathe In The Water once again works to band’s many strengths, with the thematic guitars, bouncing rhythm and infectious vocal hook-lines, sticking in the mind long after the track has finished. And although opening more delicately Vice Versa, soon treads the chunkier, 2015, Crooked Mouth path – with Kenny Haig’s fine voice along with the superbly befitting vocal harmonies from Lynne Campbell and Eilidh Maclean being the icing on the cake. The middle section rings the changes with a brief atmospheric piano interlude which gradually heightens and concludes with a ferocious sax solo from Rob Townsend.
The album definitely needed to come down at this point and on queue the first of the album’s ballads and very much in the vein of the first album. The gentle acoustic guitar lead Places To Hide is a little gem, with the now to be expected splendid vocals and the arrangement from the piano and keyboards is just sublime. Bassist Leen adds a couple of melodic fretless breaks and rounds off this great track.
The album continues with the instrumental Plague 47, which for the early part employs an electronic keyboard pulse with “radio” narrative. Things liven up circa half way through with the advent of the heavier guitar riffage and synth/guitar solos. We return to the catchy hook-lined Crooked Mouth for Welcome To The Vampire State and Tall Ships, where the observational lyrics are neatly immersed in the band’s up-beat music. Vampire State does throw in an in-swinger with its contrasting outro section, whereas the smouldering Tall Ships is another contender for most infectious track of the album. As mentioned earlier, this is an album that not only has hidden depths, but a multitude of cleverly interwoven ideas. Tall Ships epitomises this – great stuff.
Hit singles are not something that occurs often, certainly when reviewing for a progressive rock site, but Come What May is certainly a very strong contender. Driven by acoustic guitar, with a great vocal line that so suits Kenny’s voice to a tee, and as always, wonderfully capped by those superbly blending, immensely rich, vocal harmonies. The arrangement is also well thought out and rather than becoming repetitive and cloying the track introduces several deft guitar ornamentations that remind you that this is a band who don’t necessarily come from a pop background. Regardless, this is a fantastic song in any genre of music. Along with Places To Hide, these two tracks are the outstanding moments from the album. Not that the other material isn’t strong, on the contrary, but these tracks hit the right buttons with me. Perhaps because I’ve lived with the, somewhat mellower, debut for so long that the acoustic tracks appeal more. Just a thought…
Craftily Hold Me enters in similar fashion with picked acoustic guitar and layers of vocals, but at a tad under eight minutes it takes its time to reveal all of its wares. In contrast to earlier tracks this is a more atmospheric song and once again more akin to the band’s debut. As is the album closer, the gently undulating (After) One Bright Midnight. The band’s debut, Crooked Mouth, concluded with an instrumental – this track could well be a close relation.
And there we have it. I reckon One Bright Midnight will appeal to those who enjoy their prog a little more mainstream and with lashings of infectious vocal melodies. There’s no oddly metered extravaganzas nor are there any fiery displays of musicianship, however this should not suggest that this is not a band of good musicians, just a different approach to writing and performing.
This is an album that has grown on me, much as did their first release. Considering how much music I’ve listened to other the past twelve years it is a strong recommendation that Crooked Mouth still comes off the shelves regularly. I can well imagine that One Bright Midnight will also see regular spins.
01. Rage (6:02)
02. Breathe In The Water (8:00)
03. Vice Versa (6:54)
04. Places To Hide (5:09)
05. Plague 47 (4:42)
06. Welcome To The Vampire State (6:06)
07. Tall Ships (6:10)
08. Come What May (4:13)
09. Hold Me (7:53)
10. (After) One Bright Midnight (2:40)
Total Time 57:46
Ken Campbell – Guitars, Backing Vocals & Additional Keyboards
Tony Hodge – Drums & Programming
Ali Mitchell – Keyboards
Leen – Bass
Kenny Haig – Lead Vocals
Eilidh Maclean – Backing Vocals
Lynne Campbell – Backing Vocals, Percussion & Additional Keyboards
Rob Townsend – Saxophone
Record Label: Moon Brothers Music
Year Of Release: 2015