The Syracuse New Times - Nathan Turk

As the cellist and guitarist for the Gonstermachers, Leo Crandall has helped craft some of the most downright haunting and original Americana we’ve heard. I, Murderer ups the haunting factor further, if that’s possible: There’s less recognizable blues and more song-specific orchestration using more instruments.

Fellow Gonstermachers Curtis Waterman (harmonica), Hymie Withoft (drums, percussion) and Richard Curry (washtub, vocals) lend hands here, as do a halfdozen others on such unconventional-but-mesmerizing animals as hurdy gurdy (Mike Fierce) and accordion (Bob Alexander). Crandall accompanies his own playing—on guitar, cello, bass violin and requinto—with his own baritone croon, which brings to mind Mark Lanegan in the way it conveys both world-weary reflection and smoky rapture. There’s some Tom Waits and Nick Cave in there, too, but whereas Waits is big on old-weird-America imagery and Cave likes descanting spirituality, Crandall’s themes usually deal in some way with transcendence. A sparrow flies out of the blackness; souls rise on a column of air; a trumpet is heard from angels; a ruthless dream bears down in the night, like a hawk, eyeing its mark. The lyrics are no afterthought here—lines like “now the blossoms have lost all their color/ champagne has dried in the sand/ I have laid down all of my burdens/with the last bit of warmth from my hands” could probably have only come from a guy who graduated summa cum laude with an English degree. (Crandall did.) And while it’s not always totally clear what the meaning is behind the symbology, I, Murderer only asks that you let it transport you, which it does—with strange, old-rooted, sepia-toned, sometimes bewildering majesty. Truly, you need to check this out if Waits, Cave or 16 Horsepower (or, of course, the Gonstermachers) speak to your musical tastes. (Oh, and the illustrated lyrics at www.leocrandall.com are awesome. Just sayin’.)

Downtown After Dark - Russ Tarby

Crandall's new disc conjures nightmares

After years of working behind the scenes as a composer and as an arts administrator, Leo Crandall has emerged as Syracuse's most creative and versatile musical performers. First he formed The Gonstermachers, a quirky blues quartet which featured washtub bass and cello. Then he appointed the Ambassadors of Love, a combo with congas and an accordion accompanying his jet-fueled electric guitar lines and gravel road vocals. Now, fresh back from a tour of Senegal with a reconstituted Gonstermachers band, Crandall has released a 13-track CD under his own name. It's called I, Murderer, and in show-biz parlance it's sure to knock 'em dead! Crandall will play tunes from I, Murderer at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, at Alto Cinco, the Mexican restaurant at 526 Westcott St.

Plays seven instruments

"I sing and play the requinto, which is a small nylon string instrument from the guitar family," Crandall explains. "So the CD is primarily, but not exclusively, acoustic in nature." He also plays cello, bass violin, cello de amore, kalimba, congas and electric baritone guitar. The CD also features accordionist Bob Alexander, drummer Frank Hegyi and Hymie Witthoft, washtub bassist Rich Curry, harmonica master Curtis Waterman, lap steel player Mike Fierce, and percussionists Vinnie Ludovico and Irvin Daniels. At least a few of those hepcats are sure to make the scene Saturday at Alto Cinco. Listeners will be inclined to call Crandall's disc "moody," but that's not even the half of it. I, Murderer takes all manner of moods and explores, them, questions them, whines about them and welcomes them. His topics lunge from life's disappointments to death's promises. On the disc's title tune, he observes, "Trumpet and drum sound for me and you. Angels play (for us) but they've got better things to do." On "Dig My Grave," he advises, "When you dig my grave, use a silver spoon." With pointed cynicism and razor-sharp imagery the songwriter slices deep into the heart of darkness. And blood flows like wine. Crandall's last recorded work, The Gonstermachers' sophomore CD, The Crushing Gift, was vividly cinematic. I, Murderer is absolutely nightmarish. If all that isn't enough, Crandall points out that "each disc contains a set of complementary trading cards in the form of a new currency." Spend it wisely.