Who: Kyle Craft (vocals, various instrumentation), Haven Multz (drums), Mayhaw Hoons (bass), Jeremy Kale Padot (guitar), Ben Steinmetz (organ), Dan Talmadge (piano).
For fans of: The War on Drugs, Dr. Dog, Violent Femmes
Sounds like: A freight train in a hurricane conducted by the bastard, absinthe frappe-drunk son of Rolling Thunder Revue-era Bob Dylan.
Kyle Craft arrived in Portland from Louisiana in 2013—heartbroken and dejected, with nothing but a friend's cellphone number and a head full of songs. After the end of an eight-year romantic relationship and an even longer musical partnership, Craft moved to Oregon without thinking much about it, and hasn't looked back.
"I couldn't tell if something was pulling me out here," he says, "or if something back home was pushing me out."
At the time, Craft had a new album already written, but he'd consistently failed in his attempts to commit it to record, both in Louisiana and in his visits to his now-adopted home. "Whenever I came up here before, I would fail at recording," he says. "Even living under a pool table, I ran out of money." Settling in Portland for good, he upgraded to sleeping on the floor in a friend's game room, and set himself on a mission to finally record his songs. After linking up with local band Animal Eyes, which he knew from previous tours, Craft was able to plug into the scene, assemble a new live band and finally start recording.
Dolls of Highland, out April 29 on Sub Pop, is the fruit of Craft's transient, single-minded efforts. The album—mixed by Helio Sequence's Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel but otherwise written, performed and produced entirely by Craft—tilts and tumbles through a sort of bipolar history of one guy's long passage to get where he's going. One moment he's pining adoringly to a simple harmonica melody ("Balmorhea"), then shrieking vitriol shortly through a chorus of his own voice the next ("Lady of the Ark").
Though Craft follows the tradition of tempestuous guys with acoustic guitars and a penchant for cheap bourbon, he's at least studied and well-rehearsed enough to fill his debut with layers of instrumentation in precisely poignant places. It's hard to imagine all the sounds coming from a single source, but he manages to use the means of overdub to symphonic ends. If his intention was to spin rowdy, confessional honky-tonk yarns upbeat enough to soundtrack a barroom brawl, then maybe all the local guitar-toting transplants will start sleeping under gaming tables, if only for the experience.
"I don't write fiction," he says. "It's not some fairy tale or some dream world. I like to dive into a situation and not only witness but feel the fucked-up parts. That's where I find my inspiration—by diving into these things."
SEE IT: Kyle Craft plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Boone Howard and Laura Palmer's Death Parade, on Sunday, Feb. 7. 9 pm. $5. 21+.