Cris Cuddy,
Come Along Carmelita
(self-produced, 2002)

There's no doubt that Cris Cuddy knows how to write a song, and also how to surround himself with great musicians who are able to do justice to the music he creates. Fats Kaplin, in particular, does a superb job on violin, mandolin and accordion.

The opening track is a Cajun dance tune. The energetic accordion had my toes tapping, but left me with the feeling that if Cuddy had fallen in love with "The Checkout Girl" he was going to have to tell me about it a little more eloquently if he was going to make me care about the way he felt.

Luckily, he does just that a couple of tracks later with "Queen of the Ball," a tale of love at first sight in three-four time. It starts, "I was under your spell from the moment I saw you/On the steps of the Wainwright Hotel," and from there you feel as though you're at the dance yourself, watching the love story unfold.

It's not all happy-ever-after, though; there's heartbreak too. "The Beginning of the End" is a slow jazz number that transports you to a dark corner of a bar where the air is thick with cigar smoke. The lyrics are painfully honest: "Just like you I don't know/Why I don't know why, why/Love has to hurt like it does." There is honesty, too, in the last track on the album, "Two of a Kind." This is a tale of regret and misunderstanding into which you're drawn by an hypnotic snare drum: "When I look back on the memories I thought that I had/Of someone I thought that I knew/I realize that something is missing/What I saw just wasn't you."

In complete contrast, "Henry Morgan the Pirate" is a kind of Celtic folk song that comments upon the fact that the sons of privateers have merely moved from the high seas into the land of commerce and "learned to work in a business suit instead of pantaloons."

"Way Out West" is a cowboy song lamenting the passing of the old ways, hard as they were, yet celebrating the fact that the life still goes on -- because if the hard-living cowboys ever give up the trail they'll be giving up their soul. An honourable enough theme -- as long as you're not the one with saddle-sores, I guess.

This isn't an album that's going to wind up on my favourites pile. I enjoy the individual songs and I appreciate the talent displayed, it's just that as a whole, it jars. One minute I'm toe-tapping my way down the road on a light-hearted love affair, the next I'm introduced to two mobsters in a restaurant wondering "What If Frankie Doesn't Like It," and then I'm trotting along on my pony through the deserts of the West. I like to be able to sit down and relax with an album, and I don't like being yanked from one mood and forced into another with every track no matter how skillful the mood-changers are. But if that's not something that bothers you, get the album, you'll have a ball.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 5 July 2003

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