Kyle Craft - Dolls of Highland

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:5 Release Date:2016-04-30

From the first tinkling of piano and whistle of slide guitar on 'Eye of a Hurricane', the opener to his latest, Kyle Craft hits with The Faces, counters with a bit of Between the Buttons Stones, and finally settles into a regular one-two barrage of ‘67-‘73 musical touchstones including Bob Dylan and The Band. Craft bellows, “Her mother was a demon but her daddy was the De-vul/ She fed scraps to a six-headed hound at the ta-bul,” like a desperate actor giving his all to an audition for some antebellum Broadway epic written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Craft stuffs his lyrics full of Southern gothic clichés gleaned from his years growing up amongst the swampy parishes of Louisiana before he had his heart broken and beat it out of town for friendly environs in the Sub Pop backyard of Oregon. He howls, growls, and chews his words in a manner that sounds more like local theater musical than rock and roll. His voice, compared to Bob Dylan, sounds more like Don McLean or Arlo Guthrie trying to ape Freddie Mercury; rendering what should be a more understated and yearning style into a silly ham-fisted joke. This is the most obvious and egregious demonstration that young Mr. Craft has yet to realize what works and what doesn’t.

Musically, there’s certainly enough to like. The aforementioned opening cut, “Three Candles,” and first single “Lady of the Ark” have a great sound, but on the latter Craft wails in a way that sounds flat-out ridiculous and, in doing so, drags the whole song down with him.  “Gloom Girl,” incorporates a jarring New Orleans funeral dirge and a sweet Muscle Shoals horn melody line into a trad tale of lost love. In the hands of another singer, this could be a real lovely song, but Craft’s overzealous singing style, one that sounds like some unholy union between eye-rolling glam irony and Bob Dylan verbosity detracts from the beauty propping it up. It’s a shame, and this disc is full of such missed opportunities. In the end, it wore me down. Kyle Craft is a singer/songwriter vainly attempting to brand his flawed yet loving imitations as strong, deeply rooted originals. It doesn’t end with the music either, as the sullen Jim Morrison-cum-pretentious pouting Poison cover photo is embarrassingly comical.

Look, every act in rock/pop traces their roots back to the same hallowed grounds, and no band is immune to echoing those ghosts. The trick is taking those ingredients and turning them into something new and fresh, a trick most acts fail to do. Kyle Craft may get there in time, but for now, his music is too derivative, and more problematically, not inventive enough to make you forget the past and dig on the now.

In the end, I get the feeling that Mr. Craft has a lot of choice influences, but doesn’t know how to separate what he loves from what best plays to his strengths (and that singing style ain’t one of ‘em). Thus, “Dolls of Highland” is the work of a meandering songwriter in search of an identity. Self-identified as a “transient,” Craft may see himself as a vagabond tumbleweed, but in the end, he should know that tumbleweeds never grow. 

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