James Cruickshank, acclaimed guitarist and keyboardist for the Cruel Sea, releases his second solo album, Note To Self, through Mullumbimby’s Vitamin records.
Flashes of Sam Cooke, David Bowie, Tom Waits and Beefheart reveal in the swinging gait and crooked instrumental passages of a moody serenade through Cruikshank’s yellowed back pages. Tinkering with strings and keys, swamp jazz and electronic propulsion, these meditations on maturing in a Peter Pan era could have been recorded in a time capsule, but the production, resolutely 21st century, lands it safely in a contemporary quarter.
Titles such as ‘Blue Falcon’, ‘Invisible Tattoo’ and ‘Teenage Voodoo Doll’ extol Cruikshank’s penchant for pop culture, dipped in muddy rust and sprinkled in lime juice and tobacco. Their narration ebbs artfully, veering between the self-effacing mutter of ‘Chrome Wings’, and a soaring cover of the Beatles ‘Within You, Without You’ that offsets the charm of Cruickshanks deft contralto.
About to embark on a short tour through Australia, Cruikshanks returns soon to Europe, where recent sorties with Mick Harvey of the Bad Seeds, Nick Barker and the Kill Devil Hills have carved Cruikshank-size niches.
“I have a career there,” he mutters, astonished at his own temerity, but the oblique performances from touring his last album, Hello Human produced gushing accolades, journalists proclaiming him ‘genius’ and ‘effortlessly entertaining’ – his performances prompting invitations to return to a number of French festivals this summer.
Working in isolation on his beloved far north coast of NSW (his albums are self-produced), Cruickshanks has created an idiosyncratic career as bohemian bard-auteur, a kind of latter-day hillbilly beat poet – the Serge Ginsbourg of the bush. The eight-track CD, Note To Self, seems certain to claim discerning ears this winter.