Southerly : Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist

<img src="" alt=" " />After a number of well-received shorter efforts and taking time out to start his own booking agency, Krist Krueger has found the time to turn...
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 After a number of well-received shorter efforts and taking time out to start his own booking agency, Krist Krueger has found the time to turn his solo project, Southerly, into a full-fledged band with a full-fledged LP, Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist. The Madison, Wisconsin-born, but Portland, Oregon-residing Krueger started Southerly back in 2001, with a couple of EP’s, the latter of which, Expressionless, grew into his full-length debut, Best Dressed and Expressionless, and then a split record with Portland’s The Conversation.  But last year Krueger turned Southerly into an actual band with actual members, and created Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist, an orchestral piece of work that can really grab the listener… and hold him.

Most of the time, Storyteller employs its orchestra in the service of crafting epic numbers that never try too hard to encompass, thus retaining some immediacy, but still never going flat.  Such is the case with the first single, “Soldiers”, though it employs a more bopping, ‘grand fun’, that puts it above its more intimate lead-in on the album, “Close To the Crime”.  It is also less intimate than the following “A Coarse Design”, but with this Krueger wisely trades some of the song’s ‘epic-ness’ for a more touching harmony.  That pattern is repeated to less effect with the proceeding “Taking Stock”, whose lyrics are bit cloying, and the more by-the-numbers “If We All Forget”.  The second single, “Dreams That Make Men Free”, is still larger-than-life, but in a more straightforward way, employing an ironic attitude that gives the strong number a significance, without ending up in pretentiousness.

But there is also the Gossip Columnist side to this release, where Southerly doesn’t just vary its epic nature, but actually goes in whole new directions.  The most immediately recognizable are the four instrumental tracks, “Visage Sans Expression”, “For the Speechless Crowd”, “Pistols In Paradise”, and “Simple Simon”.  “Visage” and “Speechless” are really regular Storyteller tracks with the words taken out, with the amusingly titled “Speechless” pretty, but not as substantial as the tone-setting record opener “Visage”.  “Pistols”, however, is a haunting turn that is otherwise unseen on Storyteller, while “Simple” closes the album out with a sub-minute-long guitar reverb/echoing.

Probably more significant, and certainly more compelling, Gossip Columnist alt-tracks are the upbeat “How To Be A Dreamer” and the downbeat “Breath Of My Youth”.  “Dreamer” slides away from the orchestral and more towards a driving rock, and even though it has one of the catchiest “Do Do Do” choruses out there, it is backed up by probably the best, and fullest, verse lyrics on Storyteller.  Later track “Cold Caller” also employs a “Do Do Do”, with a bopping fun like “Soldiers”, but doesn’t quite match either, nor does the also differing slow, sad, quiet “When We Have To Go”.  What does rank up there among the best pieces on the album is “Breath”, a wry, indie-country number that both matches its wry-but-orchestral lead-in “Dreams” in pure quality, and provides a nice change on the record.

In many ways, it is unsurprising that Krist Krueger would want to turn Southerly into an ensemble, as his sonic vision is grand one, better suited for symphony halls than coffee joints.  On Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist, Krueger has taken that operatic ideal and gone places with it, both the conventional-but-effective epic way, and the varied-but-interesting alt-route.  With Southerly and this release, Krueger can both tell stories and spread gossip.

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