Bill Evans Dance

Standouts at Fringe: Leo Crandall the Revelator

Happy accidents make for a successful Fringe Festival. About two dozen people stumbled into one at Bernunzio Uptown Music: Leo Crandall.

The Syracuse singer-songwriter blends a fine aching blues voice with an ear for unusual, arrhythmic arrangements, which suited this trio fine: Crandall on the cello and high-pitched requinto (pretty much a guitar in most people’s books), tribal drum and wash-tub bass.

He opened and closed his performance with Blind Willie Johnson songs, although “John the Revelator” was completely unidentifiable at first through the eccentric wail of the cello, which Crandall often treated as a percussion instrument, slapping the strings with the bow and smacking its body with his hands. “Sorry John and Paul,” Crandall apologized after a similarly disarranged version of The Beatles’ “All I’ve Got to Do.”

No apology necessary. His own songs, like “The Lightning Bugs of August” were filled with marvelous abstractions that made sense. Is that a play on Barbara Tuchman’s history of World War I, The Guns of August? The words are ominous and dark, and frequently spring from offhand remarks or observations. Seeing a woman jogging along the Erie Canal, he explained, led to “Jesus was a Runner,” who was “loping to the sea.”

Crandall admitted he once tried to write songs with a clear idea in mind — including one song that addressed his mother as a victim of incest — but he soon gave up. “I just write them and I figure out what they mean later, if I even get that far,” he said. “Every time I try to think about it, I sort of got in the way.”

“I have trouble keeping the ideas out of my songs,” he added, “which makes them over-complicated.” – Jeff Spevak, Democrat and Chronicle

Letters from the Sun

“Autobiographical information on Leo Crandall is thin on the ground, so I assume he’s chosen to let his music speak for itself. Frankly, he couldn’t have decided upon a more eloquent form. His songs are rooted firmly in various folk traditions, though exact origins are difficult to pin down.

“Crandall is a founding member and principal songwriter in the Gonstermachers, a New York quartet with a reputation for dark, experimental Americana, and a composer for film, theatre, dance and art installations. All that experience serves him well when framing both his own songs, and the traditional European folk tunes that appear regularly throughout ‘Letters From The Sun’.

“His rich voice delivers the material with authority and poise, lingering deftly to emphasize lines and give an occasional emotional chill. It’s powerful and moving, and Crandall, accompanying himself on requinto guitar, builds ambience and mood to compliment his words.

“The depth and resonance he brings to his vocal performance reminds me a little of the late, great Jackie Leven, and opening cut “Jesus Was a Runner” is sung a capella, and the hairs that live on the back of things, stand instantly to attention. It soon becomes standard procedure. “Crucify the Dogs” is dark and oppressively beautiful, with Crandall showing substantial instrumental prowess, and on “Virginia” he weaves a wintry tale of lost love and rejection.” – Leicester Bangs

I, Murderer

“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….”

“Crandall’s themes usually deal in some way with transcendence…I, Murderer only asks that you let it transport you, which it does—with strange, old-rooted, sepia-toned, sometimes bewildering majesty. “ – Nathan Turk, Syracuse New Times

“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.” – Russ Tarby, City eagle

“Quake, little mortals, and fear the darkness.” – Sadie O. KZSU Zookeeper

The Crushing Gift

“The Crushing Gift will never appear on mainstream airwaves˜that kind of superior taste died in the 70s˜but it just might make it onto public stations if it can wade through the welter of crap dominating the majority of those venues. In the meantime, grab it for yourself, ’cause you’ll be old and gray before any segment of the radio world ever hips up again and you’ll never know what you missed. “ – Mark Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music

“A wide-ranging collection of musical styles, The Crushing Gift is a raw and emotional work, driven by excellent musicianship and highly original songwriting. “ – Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes

“So pomo it almost doesn’t know whether it’s retro or looking forward, this is music to shake up complacency and let the fur fly.” – Chris Specter, Midwest Record

“The Crushing Gift” is a set that is best savored, taking one’s time to thoroughly listen to each individual part in order to complete the whole. “ – Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville

“Musically there is the typical wide range – from the very traditional to the very new. The common denominator is fire and emotion. It is mature and raw. The back cover exemplifies the sensibility: tiny little images and ideas that bear close inspection.”
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“Voice reminiscent of southern gospel mixed with Richard Thompson.” – Brett Fleming, WEVL

“You might not know what went into it, but you know it’s tasty… In this world of homogenized, sterile musical product, their sound is like a breath of fresh air. Breathe deeply; it’s hard to come by these days.” – Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes

“Deep throaty vocals are matched perfectly with deep, melancholic tunes” Herb Barbee, Roots and Blues Report

“This is post-modern nihilistic sort you’d expect to hear behind film noir” – Dylann DeAnna, Blues Critic

“Accomplished yet raunchy, crowd pleasing and fascinating to watch.” – Julie Pinnsoneault, Syracuse New Times