Asterisk the Universe
John Craigie is the modern-day troubadour who has knack for drawing listeners to his articulate cons filled with dry wit and unexpected twists. He has spent more than a decade on the road honing his storytelling skills, brought to the fore once again with his latest project, Asterisk the Universe. From the openings “Hustlin’,” it’s clear that he demands an attentive listen. Some of these tunes, as one may glean from the title, are political but mercifully Craigie never gets preachy. There’s inherent soul in his earthy delivery.
The album comes off as an intimate experience, as if you were hearing him in your living room. Maybe the setting played into that. Craigie retreated to the home of The Rainbow Girls in coastal California and gathered his friends including Matt Goff (drums), Ben Berry (bass), Jamie Coffis (keys), Lorenzo Loera (organ) and Niko Daoussis (guitar).
The see-saw effect of “Don’t Ask” is Motown catchy as is the more laid back “Son of Man” but Craigie finds even stronger footing on “Part Wolf,” the single, an ironic take on American culture viewed from his lens while in the UK. The first line, “I’ve got that American meanness” is a quiet urging for us to vote in November. You may want to check out the accompanying video on YouTube. Now, we must question whether we need another cover of J.J. Cale’s too oft covered “Crazy Mama” when Craigie has plenty of his own original material. Be that as it may, it’s a small quibble.
The resolute “Climb Up” with its keening echoing vocals quickly redeems the repertoire with its funky syncopation. The female voices on “Used It All Up” serve as an interlude to his strongest track, the piano-driven “Don’t Deny” with infectious hooks and harmonies. The reflective “Vallecito” frames his vocally beautifully over spare backing, mostly from an electric piano as he utters lines such as these – “I sold my soul to the Devil but I got myself a bad deal.” “Nomads” recalls his Catholic school days with an ode to St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. It has an infectious chorus and elements of Dylan with the harmonica spot early on.
One can only wonder how seasoned troubadour Craigie is faring during this health epidemic but as soon as it breaks, expect to see him performing live. It’s in his blood. He’s got a gift for song.
- Jim Hynes