Brendan Croker & The 5 O'Clock Shadows

Brendan Croker & the Five O'Clock Shadows

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For his major-label debut, Silvertone Records threw a lot of resources at Brendan Croker, including a hefty production budget that allowed Brendan Croker & the Five O'Clock Shadows to feature a gaggle of session musicians. This turns out to be a bit of a mixed blessing -- the opening number, "No Money at All," is so dominated by the guitar of Mark Knopfler that it sounds like a lost Dire Straits track rather than the work of a new artist. Fortunately, after that Croker is allowed to bring more of his own sound to the fore, and while the gentle picking of Dire Straits is certainly one reference point to that sound, there are many others throughout this album. Obvious influences range from Woody Guthrie to John Hartford or Pete Seeger in terms of lyrical content, and from Northern soul to American country to Yorkshire folk in terms of music. Being a Brit who writes largely about social injustice has also earned Croker a number of comparisons to Billy Bragg, although musically Croker has a much wider-ranging palette. He gets to show this off to good effect on Brendan Croker & the Five O'Clock Shadows, jumping between bluesy numbers ("This Kind of Life," "That's Why I'm Leaving Here") and mellow country tunes ("Just an Old Waltz"), as well as rearranging a traditional folk song ("All Mixed Up") into a smoldering soul workout. While the production by John Porter may be a little too slick for longtime Croker fans who are used to a rawer mix, this well-written, eclectic album will serve as an excellent introduction for anyone who has heard Croker as a member of the Notting Hillbillies and wants to further explore the genesis of that band's polished-but-rootsy sound.

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