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Cris Cuddy
Come Along Carmelita

by David Pilot, Oct. 2002

Come Along Carmelita  
These are the reviews I hate to write, the ones that rudely raise the skirts of my musical neophyte self and flash the world with the knowledge that I don't know jack. It's a big shock to the ego to find oneself as hopelessly adrift and clueless as I realize I am here. You see, I know Cris Cuddy has been around a while. I know he did some work with Max Mouse and the Gorillas that's been termed "must-have" by the wizened and all-knowing denizens of the six-string universe. I know he counts Mickey Newbury as a friend and mentor. So you'd be within your rights to expect a seasoned, salty, and insightful review here of Cuddy's new effort, Come Along Carmelita, complete with footnotes and obscure references to make it clear I get the historical high points. Instead, since the above is all I know about this artist, you're just gonna get what I think about what's here and now. I don't know where it came from. I only know it's so good I don't care.

If you're into picking adjectives as descriptive and all-inclusive Cliff's Notes for records, this one gets filed under "Smooth." As in silk. That's obvious from the first few bars of "The Checkout Girl." It earns high praise simply because it's no mean feat to make a heavily Cajun-influenced track sound smooth. The two terms just don't seem meant to dance, at least not together, but Cuddy turns in a sweet shuffle of a song here that sounds as if Ole Boudreaux has made his way to Key Largo. Apparently, though, he had the Trailer Park Troubadours rocking in the truck on his way across I-20:

Then all of a sudden I realized
I was staring in a pair of beautiful eyes
That was the first time I ever knew
It was way past time to start forgetting you

That's when I fell in love with the checkout girl
Ever since we met I been doing just fine
And I get a great deal in the checkout line

Click for RealAudio of THE CHECKOUT GIRL Click for RealAudio of

Of course, having a ringer like Fats Kaplin (Tom Russell, Manhattan Transfer) on the accordion is good for smoothing a few bumps in the road.

What's so unabashedly cool here, though, is that regardless of genre, every track is indelibly stamped with the sweetness of practiced delivery that only the most accomplished and polished musicians can pull off. Couple that brand of sparkling musicianship with a true storyteller's sense of lyric, you find yourself mesmerized in a hurry. From the fiddle-driven turn of the century tale of a wanderer turned convict about to be hanged of "Lyin' In My Dreams" to the nostalgic and beautiful waltz behind "Queen Of the Ball" and its love at first sight theme, Come Along Carmelita serves up visually complete and sometimes stunning slices of life with unrelenting passion and deft ease. Take, for example, the lounge-styled slow jazz number "The Beginning Of the End," whose apparently simple lyric belies a prescient recognition of pain:

I've seen it coming for a while
Tried to hide it with a smile
Now the plans that we made
Are beginning to fade
From view
Click for RealAudio of THE BEGINNING OF THE END Click for RealAudio of

Blend a martini just right for this one, and let Al Cross' muffled snare sift the sands of uneasiness as the resophonic guitar paints a picture of bleakness replete with dark pleather couches and a black dinner gown walking away.

A standout track, one that highlights the way an adept songwriter can make an obvious point without sliding into the abyss of mediocrity, emerges with the Celtic-sounding and initially bouncy "Henry Morgan the Pirate." The medieval melody, with its near iambic rhyme and driving string bass, is immaculately suited to the tale of a seafaring ne'er-do-well with mighty ambitions. As fate would have it, though, this pirate's plans reach fruition with his son, who's down on Wall Street now:

And Henry's son was no-one's fool, he learned all he would need
To help himself proliferate his father's famous greed
And Junior runs the business now, just like his old man
He's a pirate in the modern world, stealing all he can
And Henry's son became a toff, a veritable tycoon
And he learned to work in a business suit instead of pantaloons.
Click for RealAudio of HENRY MORGAN THE PIRATE Click for RealAudio of

As relevant as that track seems in today's headlines, its impact fades as the title cut wafts in on a mandolin wind to soothe the lovelorn soul of a wounded beauty. Lushly arranged, yet understated, it's a beautiful and calming effort in reverse psychology as the narrator whispers to the broken heart that "There is no harm I've found/If you live in the ground/There will only be fresh mountain dreams to dream." Will she take the admonishment at face value and wither? Or will she decide to flower once again? Don't know. But the conversation's a gem to overhear, and in its own way sets the stage nicely for the 50's feel of "Just For A Thrill," another track bent on exploring all the crazy things our hearts will do when a lover does them wrong, and all the crazy, precarious places we find ourselves in as a result:

Just for a thrill, I let you love me
Just for a thrill, I let you think that I cared
But the thrill lingers on now that you're gone
And I'm losing my heart just for a thrill
Click for RealAudio of JUST FOR A THRILL Click for RealAudio of

That sort of insight, the ability to take a visceral look at a psyche laid bare and couch it in music both accessible and listenable, may be a big part of why Cris' CD release party in the States will feature Rockzillaworld favorite Phil Lee. If the immediate musical styles don't seem to match, no matter - - the marrow is the key and nothing is off limits. Need proof? See "What If Frankie Doesn't Like It," an orchestral, haunting visit to Old Blues Eyes' alleged mob ties through the eyes of a couple of employees who've been into the take a bit too much.

There's even a country song here, hell almost a cowboy song, and it goes to show that even Canadians (Cuddy's from Ontario) have an inkling of what it really takes to be a man. "Way Out West" employs a mournful fiddle to bittersweet perfection as the wide open places crystallize in the mind's eye and a perfectly measured baritone with just enough grit to make a difference lays out the bottom line.

Yeah the livin's too hard and the money's too low
And we'll never get out of the hole
But we'll carry on here 'til the day that we die
If we left we'd be leaving our soul
Click for RealAudio of WAY OUT WEST Click for RealAudio of

The one lesson Henry Morgan didn't teach his son, right there. Maybe Ken Lay will wake up and get it right for his kids. Maybe not. Does that put the ball back in our court, where it's belonged all along?

Therein lies the beauty of Come Along Carmelita. On a wide open highway with the top down and no speed traps in sight, this record's a perfect easy listen. In a La-Z-Boy with a whiskey on the rocks, it's a provocative page-turner with open-ended stories to make you think. And in the back of your mind, where its infectious sound quickly nestles in to stay for a spell, it's a peaceful, satisfying soundtrack for plenty of things you saw today and some you hope you will or won't see tomorrow depending on your state of mind. A keeper from top to bottom, not a throwaway track in sight. Find out for yourself at www.criscuddy.com, where you can read the entire lyrics from each song and listen to some samples. Read first - - get the marrow. Then get the record, find you a sunset, and enjoy.

Contact David Pilot at: tailgunner@rockzilla.net     Original article source here.

Media reps can contact Cris Cuddy directly at 905-649-1521 or criscuddymusic@aol.com


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