The Believers look like interesting characters. They also make interesting, one-of-a-kind music. Their names are Craig Aspen and Cynthia (Cyd) Frazzini and they first met in a bar in Seattle. The bio introduces them: "Craig Aspen was a vagabond songwriter. He didn't start a full time music career till getting clean & sober at age 35 and describes his prior life as something that makes even Steve Earle blush. Enough said." "Trading her horse in for a Volvo, Cynthia Frazzini moved to Seattle from her country home in Denver, Colorado. She began performing in rock bands, listening to Metallica and the heavy sounds of Seattle's grunge explosion. Then she was re-introduced to bluegrass music. From that moment she was determined to pursue and learn more about the Appalachian style and its influences on American folk music." That was the start and the bio continues: "The blend of these two artists, Craig and Cynthia, is a complex paradox where opposites attract. Aspen, hailing from the concrete jungles of New York City, his rough and tumble street-smart style wears well against Frazzini's plains of Colorado background. Her gentle and transparent voice creates the balance of these two artists into a particularly effective and cohesive sound."
So, it all started in that Seattle bar, where they sang "Hickory Wind" together. Within weeks they began writing and recording songs for their debut "Raw". And then "Crashyertown" was a big success in the USA, the UK and on the continent. I remember that The Believers promised me twice to send a copy for review and airplay. Maybe they had (understandable) problems with the budget or something, I never received it. But... here's the successor!
"Lucky You" starts off with the title track. A sturdy electric guitar fades in on a sound effect. It is a sturdy uptempo song too and both voices get involved, Cynthia sings lead and Craig harmony. The roles are reversed on "I'm Only Dreaming", this track turns down the energy, the acoustic guitar is being introduced, although the electric keeps screaming in the background. "Mother Nature" is a politically charged ballad. "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" starts off with alienating sound effects, when the music circles around Cynthia's voice and then builds up in epic style. "Read It & Weep" tells the tale of an abused woman leaving home, Cynthia sings the ballad, accompanied by an acoustic 12-string, keys joining in, eerie voices in the background and there's a loop in the middle.
The noise of an old radio introduces "Who's Your Baby Now", there's Cynthia from Colorado sounding very sweet in the prettiest song, where the electric guitar stays in the back. It seems they take this a little over the top on old-fashioned country song "Your Hurting Ways", a Gram & Emmylou duet with only an acoustic guitar at first, but then the keyboard appears and three minutes into the track there's the electric guitar solo and it all makes sense again! "Ring, Ring, Ring" is a very strong song, Craig on leadvocals, a rockabilly touch, a chicka-boom bassguitar and devastated New Orleans as the background of a "lost love" story. A lonely dog is barking in the end... Cynthia sings about "The Day The Circus Left Town", a slow song starting off with the kickdrum, great drumming throughout and the typical circus music drifting in on the imaginary breeze.
I saved my own favorite for last: "Higher Ground" is the track I can't get enough of. It proves that mandolin and button accordion go very well together with that mean electric guitar and a convincing kickdrum. The lyrics, about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, seem too light-hearted at first but won me over in the end: Craig and Cynthia are genuinely concerned, they mean it!
CoraZong Records is always generous with bonus tracks: two songs from "Crashyertown". Little film noir "Railroadspikes & Shotgunshells" with mandolin touches and Craig in early Springsteen style, getting the urgency across. Cynthia sings sweet sounding ballad "Long Way To Heaven": guitars and keyboard and convincing choruses.
We could call Craig a multi-instrumentalist. He plays electric 6- and 12-string guitars, acoustic guitars too, a button accordion, mandolin and some bass. Cynthia keeps herself to the acoustic guitars. Besides Craig and Cynthia, there are two other musicians playing on the album: bassist Bill Reynold and Stevie Adamek on drums, keys including synths and loops, plus guitars. Mastering of the album is done by Ray Kennedy, who produced for Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.
The lyrics, rather sketches of situations than poetry, go very well with the no-nonsense music. "That's right here's where the talkin' ends / Well listen this night there'll be some action spent / Drive hard I'm callin' all the shots / I got an ace card comin' down on the rocks" (from the only cover "You've Got Another Thing Comin'") and a second example: "It's just another piece of wreckage that just got burned along the road of life / Where two souls collide" (from "Who's Your Baby Now?").
The digipack looks great (trademark CoraZong) with creative photography fitting artists and music comfortably and the lyrics are featured in a booklet. And for the music lovers who look for that one line conclusion in a review, I love this one-liner from the bio: "Imagine Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris having The White Stripes over for dinner."
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, April 2008.