The texture and variety of One Fell Swoop’s playing — especially Andy Ploof on mandolin, fiddle, and dobro, and Cheryl Stryker on piano and accordion — is reminiscent of The Band, their obvious spiritual godparents. An instinctive singer in the Van Morrison tradition, Stryker belts and purrs in equal measure, her cashmere-coated voice moving between wail and whisper, between sorrow and cheer.
Now the band’s writing is as strong as its musicianship, with arresting images and propulsive narratives that illuminate and extend their influences rather than merely miming them. The opening “Broke Down” borrows its melody from the folk standard “South Coast” and nods lyrically toward Townes Van Zandt’s brooding “A Song For”, but retains its own personality. The song’s message, that a little empathy can overcome self-loathing, is uplifting without being preachy.
As its title suggests, “Chester And The Tarot Card Queen” owes much to E Street Shuffle-era Springsteen. But writer John Wendland pays the debt in full, revealing the painfully real heartbreak lurking behind the surreal jungle of life on the street. “Missouri Roads” is a relentlessy catchy, richly suggestive travelogue, balancing the exuberance and melancholy of heading South.
Crazy Time benefits from the band’s new rhythm section: bassist Mike Tiefenbrun and drummer Sean Anglin. Gurf Morlix (who co-produced the album) and keyboardist Ian McLagan are welcome and unobtrusive guests, but even without their stellar playing, Crazy Time would be an unassuming treasure.