This is Craig Helmreich.
Or as he prefers it… “It’s Just Craig”.
Such humble motivations are evident on his second full length release, “Dark Corners”… an album filled with mellow, shuffling tunes that skirt the edges of indie rock similar to the more subdued spectrum covered by The Eels. Songs are sparse, centered around the lyrical core provided by Craig and spiced up with moody organs and hushed backing vocals.
There is a melancholy atmosphere that permeates the Americana of “Dark Corners”. Not depressing, but sulking and introspective. While songs are in no hurry to pull the listener in, there maintains an insistent urgency to follow along, as the journey definitely tells a tale.
From the artist’s bio:
“The first eight songs proper are the story of a cargo boat captain and his journey. From the moment he leaves home, both excited & full of reservations, on a sometimes lonely path, getting stranded within view of his destination port, fighting temptations of the sea, struggling with being out of touch with his partner on land, & ultimately deciding whatever it was he was deciding, only to learn that the decision may no longer be his to make.”
Interestingly enough, track nine is blank space… included to partition off the final stand alone track entitled, “Thirty-Nine”. The song is as much a tribute to artist Jason Molina as it is a warning, to fellow musicians and Craig himself. (Molina was a celebrated singer-songwriter who fronted the band Magnolia Electric Co. who sadly succumbed to his alcohol addiction, passing away at age 39).
And while It’s Just Craig gives the impression of a solitary musician, this release has a few notable contributors, most of which recorded on Craig’s previous album, “Blood On The Table”. The band features Marc Ford (Black Crowes/Ben Harper/Magpie Salute) on lead guitar, Elijah Ford on bass, piano, and acoustic and electric guitars, Jason Slota (Thao & the Get Down Stay Down) on drums, Rob Shelton (Meernaa) on synths, and Jess and Kels Von Strantz on background vox and cello.
It is the Rob Shelton organs that weave a lot of the subtle personality behind Craig’s story-like lyrics. (“Siren Sings” stands out with it’s drums/synth heart, made all the more vulnerable by Craig’s soothing vocals.)
The entire release drips with Craig’s soft hush of a voice, brightened on the choruses by sensual female backing vocals. Evidenced on the brooding track, “Goodnight”. Again, utilizing organ sweeps to add some layers of personality to the stripped down approach to crafting a song.
Some professional level production by way of John Vanderslice (Spoon, Death Cab, St. Vincent) and expert mastering from Bernie Grundman (Prince: Purple Rain; Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker Reissue; Pink Floyd Remasters) puts a final polish on this release, resulting in a lush sonic atmosphere. Taking into considering the minimal approach the songs generally embrace, having top level production and mastering allows the sparsely crafted songs to take on a larger presence, leaving the listener with a heavy and somber release.