Crooked Fingers
Dignity and Shame


onsider this moment your dawn, although the sun might be going down.

The instrumental opener "Islero" announces the tone that this album will have. With its slow, depressed acoustic-picking and hand drums, the songs quickly centers us toward the southwest United States. When the trumpet starts, backed by steady strumming, songwriter Eric Bachmann firmly stakes his claim to the border territory, signifying landscape in a way that makes description redundant. The music stays solemn, but maintains a spirit of hope; the title "dignity" doesn't come from success but from endurance and innate pride.

The music on this disc, Crooked Fingers' fourth full-length, doesn't fully delve into its Latin influences, but it holds them close. "Twilight Creeps" starts out like standard piano-based pop, but Jason Parker's draws a melody from the West, adding an effective twist to an otherwise uneventful song. Throughout the disc, these little musical flourishes (partnered with lyrical nods to location or vocation) do more to maintain the setting than anything else does.

Regardless of the musical inspiration, though, Bachmann builds his compositions around a simple premise. His pieces match open, lovely music with lyrics depicting people in struggle. Mostly these characters deal with lost or difficult love, but they also fight against theft and violence, physical injury and psychological disability. Individual songs take on various moods, but the album never dips fully to the bleak.

There is a picture of a dead matador inside the liner notes.

Bachmann offers his creations hope through his words. Amid tense music, the narrator of "Andalucia" sends a message to a distant lover, reminding her of their summer together and promising his return to Andalucia. His descriptions connote both battlefields and bullfights and name the ring Cordoba and the dangerous Miura breed of bulls. Despite the fear of his lover, the narrator stands firm, anxious to go through combat to get home, and confident of his success.

There is a picture of mariachi dancers on the back of the packaging.

Shame isn't based on your condition, but on what you do with it, and Bachmann sets out to prove that point throughout the album. Despite the bullfighting and the violence and the occasional puta, Bachmann's people never take on the full characteristics of the Hemingway heroes, rejecting the romantic fatalism and glances into the abyss in favor of argumentation and the hope of an existential renaissance. It's that sometimes irrational optimism that allows the singers the freedom to plead lines like "Come let the silver street-shine burn your blue eyes," and the chance to offer the honesty of "Give the ocean what I took from you so one day you could find it in the sand." These characters that have been beaten and thrown too many of their own punches find a resilience.

But if it was that simple, Bachmann's work would slide toward the maudlin, and it doesn't. While these characters hope, they're still being battered down, and love stays distant. The narrator of "Sleep All Summer"—the same one who threw a gift into the ocean—knows the "Strange way we love to suffer" and asks "Why won't you fall back in love with me?" His hope for the return of his old love is bound up with his sluggishness and his inability to move on as much as it's tied to his heart. He sings, "There ain't no way we're gonna find another." It's not that romantic; sometimes shame comes with hope.

While all these emotions build, Bachmann saves his answers for the closing, title track. He courses through violence, jealousy, and grief and realizes that aggressive reaction, vindictiveness, and cyclical emotion might be honest, they don't help you find your place. He sings, "You're not the same as the day that you came / You can choose dignity or shame / You've got to carry your heart / Like a torch in the night." Dignity and shame become a choice, free for all to make. Bachmann doesn't criticize those stuck with shame, though—he humanizes them and helps us to empathize. Sometimes dignity and shame come in the same package.

Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake

Reviewed on: 2005-02-14

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Posted 02/16/2005 - 12:06:22 PM by Amandalucia:
 I'm just wondering -- is this a collection of short stories or a record? I really do appreciate your literary bent, but I wish I knew more about the sound of the album rather than a detailed explication of the lyrics. It's great to know there's a Latin flair, but are we talking Tito Puente? Guillermo Portabales? Fruko y sus Tesos? Xavier Cugat? Marc Anthony? The world of Latin music is enormous. I'm not sure what you're referring to. You should consider your reader when you write a review this obtuse.
Posted 02/19/2005 - 06:45:34 AM by joordan:
 In Cober-Lake's defense, I think he hits it more with border than with Latin. The mariachi of "Twilight Creeps" and the guitar and Islero do evoke a certain La Frontera feel. Tink Calexico not Cugat. As for short stories, he is not too off the mark there either given the narrative-literary bent of Bachmann, but on the whole I think this album is much more a full flowering of melancholic indie rock in the vein of Merritt, Cohen and Cave than it is an El Paso make-over.
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