Click to hear “Sahara Nightmara“
Speaking of the Bees, when I ran into Boo at the post office last month, he was all fired up about a new album, but it wasn’t his own. It was Hollywoodland, the sophomore effort by Johnny Cremains. Boo said he hasn’t been this excited about a local release since Rustic Overtones dropped Shish Boom Bam in ’94. Now that’s sayin’ something.
I liked Johnny Cremains’ first album, 2012’s Leave It to Believers, but found myself comparing it, unfairly and unfavorably, to the music of the band from which this one was birthed, The Horror. Hollywoodland smashes any such comparisons to dust. I loved The Horror, but Cremains takes what they were doing — twisting metal into strange, lounge-y, oddly operatic shapes — to a much higher level of craft and intensity.
For example, Horror frontman Ricky Boy Floyd (who makes a hilarious cameo in the Bees’ play, by the way) will always have a special place in my heart, but holy shit, Sean Libby can sing! His secondary role as a vocalist in The Horror’s latter incarnation hardly hinted at what he unleashes here. Mike Patton would be proud, and maybe even a little jealous, of Libby’s ability to slide effortlessly from tenderness to menace, from a greasy Vegas Elvis croon into a register that sounds like José Carreras on bad acid.
The band matches Libby’s vocal virtuosity with musical and compositional chops of its own. Cremains is stacked with some of the best musicians in the state, including drummer Adam Cogswell (of Confusatron, et al.), David Joy (of prog kings Sunrunner) on bass, and guitarist Doug Porter (of the Bees and half the other great groups in town). The guiding musical force is keyboardist Erik Winter, whose organ, piano and accordion envelop these songs in a spooky funhouse atmosphere that was also The Horror’s signature sound. (Rustic Overtones saxophonist Jason Ward and cellist Devon Colella make choice contributions on two tracks, too.)
This album is deep, lyrically and musically, and I can’t claim to have plumbed even half its dark wonders in the time I’ve been able to devote to it thus far. Suffice to say the next time you see me at the post office, I’ll be the one raving about the greatness of Johnny Cremains.
— Chris Busby