BY MARY LEARY
The Crackling’s name “…refers to songwriter Kenton Loewen’s favorite sound, the sound of burning. From gentle taps of smoking wood, to violent sparks of exploding pine cones and falling branches…”
I recently learned that the Crackling’s been opening for File Under: Music label mate Dan Mangan. Mangan performed at a venue I was booking in 2007. His impassioned, intuitively meshed technical expertise and songwriting talent were elevated by that ineffable quality that moves some performances into the indelible memory category. Based on the talent of the tour mate who shared that ’07 show – Matt Berube – Mangan probably welcomes challenges; competition. Even given the fact that Mangan’s percussionist, Loewen, is the Crackling’s founder and central idea-maker, I’m not surprised to learn that Mangan’s been touring with the band. Canada’s alt. cabaret/folk/Indie rock subgenre seems to maintain its fertility – as have many healthy grassroots artistic movements – by populating itself with participants who inspire and support each other to fulfill and surpass their respective potentials.
Spotted by a track or two that helps keep the whole boat afloat, Mary Magdalene is something of a marvel. Loewen injects his emotions into forms that seem familiar while fresh and engaging. His ear for melodically attractive music is matched by an ability to appoint and arrange songs with a sense of just how hypnotic they can get without dipping into sleepy time territory. Arcane elements (clarinet, accordion, viola, piano, French horn, cello, acoustic guitar) are pumped up by more typical rock (electric guitar, bass, drums) instrumentation. Vocals, whether Loewen is solo or joined by Debra Jean Creelman, Dan Mangan, and/or the Vancouver Children’s Choir (“Keep Me Drunk”) are delivered with cabaret-savvy dynamics: restrained when they just need to tell the story; mounting to a roar when a song’s blood hits the surface.
“The Crackling” is a riveting exercise in boot-tapping rock with slightly gothic theatrics. It’s so enlivening that the band’s cover of a song I thought I’d heard enough for several lifetimes is well positioned to creep into my heart, right after it. Loewen’s quiet, resigned delivery of “Suicide Is Painless” restores the wryly heartbreaking nuances to a song that hit me that way when I first heard it in Mash (the film – as a TV theme song, it’s been castrated by sitcom theme orchestration and repetition). Other high points include the meaty folk rock of “Ashen,” a passionate confessional called “Keep Me Drunk,” and the elegant step back/forward rhythm of “Sold the Children.”
DOWNLOAD: “The Crackling,” “Suicide Is Painless,” “Sold the Children, “Keep Me Drunk”