Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare

by Mark Moody Rating:6 Release Date:2018-02-02
Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare
Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare

Some things are readily apparent on Portland based Kyle Craft’s sophomore album (not counting a cobbled together release of cover songs last year).  The step up in production quality and musical chops from his 2016 debut is obvious with his band operating like a modern day Rolling Thunder Revue.  From the standard instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums along with piano, organ, strings, harmonica and probably more, everything here is note perfect and played to the hilt.  Craft himself sings with a level of energy and swagger that is unmatched by anyone treading in his realm.  He is quick himself to acknowledge Bowie, Dylan and 70s glam rock as key influencers with his vocals tending more towards the latter if not tinged with a bit of early hard rock as well.  On the cover photo of Full Circle Nightmare it looks like Craft has an ace up his sleeve, but he would need the trick of a third arm to wear all his influences on them.  This isn’t a bad thing particularly if you enjoy this era or genre of music, but given how many touchpoints are pulsing through this music his originals almost come off more like covers than his previously released covers do.  Whereas on his set of singles covering songs originally performed by women he seemed to have gone out of his way to make his versions sound different, here we have a grab bag of different styles and melodies (sometimes on the same track) mixed into songs you are going to swear you have heard somewhere before and maybe some you have.  

The full throttle approach starts right from the beginning on ‘Fever Dream Girl’ and rarely lets up over the course of the album.  The leadoff track seems to be a cautionary tale told in the second person and possibly the first of a series of songs about some mystery woman, with Craft asking “was she the cure-all or just the disease?” and a nearly endless stream of other questions of her pursuer.  When the song ends it quickly segues into a similar sounding beginning where Craft is likely questioning the woman of the first song in a back and forth dialogue where she describes “he was a day late, he was a dumb kid.”  Of course the hero must win the lady eventually which unfolds over the next few songs, though these tales border more on the one night stand variety versus long term relationships.  ‘Heartbreak Junky’ breaks tempo with the earlier songs for a moment as Craft leaves town down on his luck.  The song has the potential to be one of the best here, but it’s so over sung in the choruses it loses whatever lowdown vibe it had to that point.  Restraint doesn’t seem to be in the repertoire except for a few cases as on ‘Rager’ which is a highlight of the album by standing alone.  Here he finally lands his siren only to wake the next morning in a haze of regrets as she beckons “there’s a party tonight if you want to go.”  The more Southern boogie sounding ‘Exile Rag’ concludes the stronger first half of the album.  

A couple of songs on the second half veer dangerously close to other songs, but given Craft’s tendency to attention deficit and not sticking in one spot for too long it’s hard to say they are straight copies.  ‘Belmont’ in places sounds like a charged up version of Lou Reed’s ‘Vicious’.  Most blatantly though, ‘Fake Magic Angel’ intersects with The Toadies’ ‘Possum Kingdom’ in both hook and guitar riff too many times, not to mention almost identical lines of ‘so help me Jesus’ compared to ‘sweet Jesus’ and ‘my sweet angel’ up against ‘fake magic angel’.  It would be one of the strongest songs of the second side, but the similarity is just too hard to get past.  Accordingly another of the more restrained yet powerful songs makes for the highlight of the later tracks.  ’Bridge City Rose’ with violin and harmonica accompanying the rest of the instruments makes for a solid sing along on par with a Pogues tear in my beer sea shanty and is well worthwhile.  Craft sounds a bit too much like a maudlin Neil Diamond on ‘Slick and the Delta Queen’ in spite of some of his best lyric writing describing throwing beer bottles at a passing paddle wheeler as it disappears around a bend in the river being particularly vivid.  Fortunately, ‘Gold Calf Moan’ is the last song on the album and can be easily skipped - it’s an unholy mix of the dramatic wailing of Meat Loaf in the form of what sounds like a Grease musical outtake.

This album may be a breakout musically and lyrically, but Craft needs to rein in his vocals a bit, find his voice and move forward.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a great album in him a few years down the road.  His forbears such as Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger knew when to let it fly and when to let it simmer and he’s just not on that page yet, but could have the talent to get there.  In the meantime unfortunately I would much rather put on a Faces album than bear with the highs and lows of Full Circle Nightmare.

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