Crooked Fingers
w/Dolorean, Inara George
Sat April 23, Crocodile, 9 pm, $10/$12.

In early 2000, former Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann released the eponymous debut of his new project, Crooked Fingers. It was a gracefully unsettling and morbidly beautiful record, created on a shoestring budget with help from several local musicians who shared their talents with the North Carolina transplant.

There was a litany of impressive characteristics to the record--from Bachmann's gorgeous, gravel-gargling vocals to the dark, narcotic swoop and stomp of Brian Causey's electrochime and percussion--but its defining element was Bachmann's finely honed songwriting approach. His ability to adroitly outline visions of death-wishing drunks and careless, homeless harlots without resorting to overt romanticism or melodramatic anguish gave their grim portraits a sense of dignity, humanity, and refreshing realism. Lines like "Last night I saw the saddest thing I ever saw/A pretty girl all strapped up in an ugly car" were thoughtful, nuanced and virtually cliché-free.

So what went so wrong with Crooked Fingers' latest release, Dignity and Shame? Well, in short: too much wafer-thin romance and not enough evocative details. With rich Spanish influences (in both lyrical tone and instrumentation), this collection of songs seems to rotate loosely around the trials and tribulations of a solitary matador (I'd really love to be wrong about this, so feel free to write a letter to the editor, Mr. Bachmann).

Instead of nuanced character sketches, we're offered sophisticated-but-syrupy-sweet duets (with guest vocalist Lara Meyerratken), such heartfelt advice bits of advice as, "You've been waiting your whole life to make your move/so make your move," or worse, "You've got to carry your heart like a torch in the night/Little keeper of light/Burning deep, burning bright." Egads. I can't begrudge Bachmann his current preference for upbeat melodies and optimistic themes--and he doesn't have to regress back to gutter anthems to regain appeal--but it's terribly disappointing that his attention to the finer points of human nature has been lost. Let's hope it's temporary.