2002, Arc Life, ARCLIFE019
As half of the writing force behind seminal Christchurch/Dunedin fuzz-country rockers The Renderers (with his wife Mary-Rose), Brian Crook [aka Bible Black] has been making dirty, downtrodden stories since the late 80’s.
In 1997 The Renderers released what is considered their archetypal (and best) album, the soaring ‘Dream of the Sea’, but its been slim-pickings since then with single releases and sporadic performances coming amidst line-up and label changes. This latest release is essentially a Brian Crook solo album, albeit with the occasional guest vocal from Mary-Rose – boiling The Renderers sound down to their most minimalist (and at times exceedingly effective).
The songs are generally dark and brooding. Crook lacks the climactic tendencies in his voice that Mary-Rose exudes so freely. But with songs like ‘Baby Doll’, crook’s voice paints strong character sketches – “You seem so agitated, and there’s liquor down your dress”, creating images of backwoods folk with chemical dependencies and tawdry relationships. He sounds so world-worn and forbidding, that his multi-layered guitar becomes the perfect backdrop to these songs.
Opener ‘Leaves upon the lawn’ sees Crook crooning gently over three guitar-lines and the faint drift of organ, very melancholy stuff. A rattly slide guitar forms the lead – quite a change from The Renderers theatrical sonic attack built upon walls of feedback. Slowly paced and careful, it’s the soundtrack for a dark and smoky room in the most tragic of movies.
Country slide guitar rears its head on ‘What were they thinking’, a campfire song in the Johnny Cash vein. Crook is a brilliant live guitarist, creating unorthodox shards of feedback, whilst still maintaining a southern-fried tone – but here things are brought down a few notches to glorious effect. Like his Dunedin compatriot Dave Mitchell (formerly of the 3D’s and now the man behind the brilliant Ghost Club project) his guitar playing is more about restraint than release. Though it seems calm and melodic, there is something down below ready to erupt at any moment, and it’s that tension that drives the songs.
The only possible problem with the album is that at times it feels like Crook is re-treading familiar territory, though the album is certainly charismatic and gritty in the inimitable crook style. Things make a rapid right turn with ‘hell of a woman’ though- a blast of guitar bursts out unexpectedly. A rising crescendo riff that invigorates the middle section of the album, it’s the kind of anarchistic moment you can generally expect from a Renderers performance.
It’s an inviting return from New Zealand’s own alt-country underground star, now back at home under the ever-popular (and for good reason) Arc Life label, after spending the last couple of albums with Philadelphia-based Siltbreeze records. Lastly, remember to keep an eye out for The Renderers fully-fledged return early next year – it promises to be a stunner.