I must start this review off by acknowledging that I am very biased towards Eric Bachmann and his previous works (as indicated by my user ID). I have enjoyed everything he has done in the Archers Of Loaf and Crooked Fingers (I, however, unfortunately have yet to purchase any Barry Black, Bachmann's solo project).
For those of you unfamiliar with these two bands, the Archers Of Loaf were a four-piece that existed from the mid 1990's to 2000 (I believe). They were characterized by a very unique, almost atonal guitar work, often described as a "wall of sound." Bachmann attributed their sound to "being from the South and taking life a little slower than everybody else‚?¶it affects the way we write music and do everything else, even it it's watered down...it's not as rustic as the old South. It's newer, but elements [of Southern culture] do survive that have to do with the way you think about things‚?¶" This Southern influence continues on Bachmann's next project Crooked Fingers. Crooked Fingers' previous releases were defined by melodic finger picking and melancholic lyrics, traits that seemed to have changed a bit with the new release Dignity And Shame.
Dignity And Shame starts off with an instrumental, a Spanish-influenced ditty that is quite enjoyable. Bachmann is beginning to experiment with this Spanish sound as the new song "La Maleta Fea" (not on this CD, as I believe it was cut from the final version) demonstrates it well. The following three songs, "Weary Arms," "Call To Love," and "Twilight Creeps," are all very upbeat sounding for Crooked Fingers. Even the lyrics seemed to be less melancholic than previous releases. While this might be somewhat disconcerting for some Crooked Fingers fans, I find the songs to be quite enjoyable, even if it is a departure from past works. Bachmann also favors the use of a piano in "Twilight Creeps," which is something he has also done in his live shows. Piano use continues in the next song, "Destroyer," which is the first song on the album that I usually skip over. It's a slower song with low vocals that just doesn't do much for me. In fact, it bores me. Even the electric guitar solo at the end doesn't save the track, which is followed by the best one on the CD, "You Must Build A Fire." The song is the most similar to the Crooked Fingers of old: slow finger picking with soulful lyrics. I haven't been able to stop listening to this song, and I would almost feel like recommending this album to anyone based solely on this one track. I can't be too forthcoming in praise about it. Absolutely amazing. Following this track are two other very good songs, "Valerie" and "Andalucia," which are also very upbeat songs, with "Valerie" having a very Southern feel with great slide guitar, upright bass, and horn work, and "Andalucia" having a driven beat and what I would call, for my lack of ability to think of a better word, a poppy chorus. Unfortunately, the CD begins to decline in quality afterwards. "Sleep All Summer," "Coldways," and "Wrecking Ball" are not very compelling or noteworthy. Fortunately, the closer and title track, "Dignity And Shame," finishes out the record with a melodic, stirring piano-orientated track.
While I did not enjoy this album as much as Crooked Fingers' past releases, this is still a fairly solid release. It is definitely worth your money if you're a Crooked Fingers fan, but if you're not familiar with the band, I would recommend Red Devil Dawn Bring On The Snakes, and the self-titled release before this one. I'd give this effort a 7.5 if I could, but since I can't, and because "You Must Build a Fire" is so great, I'll give it an 8.
By the way, Crooked Fingers' website is at the moment streaming the songs "You Must Build A Fire," "Twilight Creeps," and "Sleep All Summer" if you care to take a listen.