REVIEW: Crave and Wonder’s “Tales From the Porch” is Memories in Sandpaper and Honey

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What’s the opposite of the blues? Times up . . . It’s Crave & Wonder’s debut Tales from the Porch. It’s an Eagle-Rare-drenched collection of memories from the sandpaper and honey LA-based duo, Arnold Schmidt and Debbie Dragna. Each track evokes perfectly that feeling of sitting on an idyllic porch reflecting on a life well lived . . . while a Bogner blasts through the screen door. It’s not unlike the porch on which duo sit on the album cover.

Schmidt and Dragna are the heart of Crave & Wonder, writing all the songs. Schmidt came to LA from Germany where he honed his Les Paul chops listening to British blues, and Dragna grew up in NOLA channeling Linda and Lucinda. On the surface, it’s an unlikely pairing but it works. And maybe that’s not a surprise.

For all its rootsieness, the album was recorded in a very modern way. Schmidt and Dragna cut the demos in LA and then shipped them to Germany where Carsten Enghardt recorded all the drum tracks at 1st Take Studios in Gachenbach, Southern Germany. Next stop, Florida, where German bassist Martin Motnik laid down the bottom end at his home studio. After that, it was back to Germany. There, Jens Skwirblies, keyboardist in the German rock band Lake, added piano and organ. Back in LA, Schmidt and Dragna re-did the guitars and vocals at their home studios. Wow, I never would have guessed from listening. In my mind’s eye, they are all playing off each other. The production feels vital and alive.

The album opens with my favorite track, “Be With You,” conjuring David Lindley and Linda Ronstadt circa 1975 or so. Whenever it was that Linda starting really kicking ass. The song apparently began as a negative I-don’t-want-to-be-with-you song. But clearly that’s not these guys’ style. And the song became an exploration about how two people remember the birth of a relationship differently. I’m thinking Arnold’s got the Fenders out for this one, and Debbie sounds great. I found myself wishing they’d done more songs in this style rather than the more overtly bluesy forms on most of the rest of the album. It’s not that the other stuff isn’t good, it is. I just love this one so much.

The most popular song – for which there is also a radio edit – is “Let’s Take a Walk.” It’s sort of like Scenes From an Italian Restaurant if everything had worked out ok, or maybe they’d managed the bottles a little better. Schmidt does this great steppy guitar figure for the intro and a variation on it in the solo that is the highlight of the song. The lyric takes you through the life of this couple from young sweet hearts through marital bliss. Schmidt’s guitar captures perfectly a sense of time passing in a satisfying smooth enjoyable movement. You can feel the sun setting and rising the next day.

Jeremiah evokes Kafka, but somehow it all works out. And “Louisiana Rain,” “Simple Things,” and “New Orleans Shuffle” all draw on Dragna’s Big Easy memories. The band describes their sound as Lucinda Williams meets Deep Purple, and that’s there, to be sure. You sometimes get an earthquake where you’d expect a soft summer rain. But hey, we get what we expect all too often, right?

We’re a little late to this discovery party. Hopefully, these two are working on another batch of songs that take their unique blend to the next level. I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, you can get more information on the band’s website http://www.craveandwonder.com and buy their CD at the CD Baby Store. https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/craveandwonder1

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Crave and Wonder’s “Tales From the Porch” is Memories in Sandpaper and Honey

  1. Thank you Steve for this glowing review of our music! You are right, on “Be With You” it was mostly a Telecaster, but from G&L though. I used Teles, Strats and Les Pauls throughout the album to mix it up a little bit “sonically”.
    You really heard what we were trying to achieve with our music on the album and that makes me very, very happy! Also interesting is the David Lindley and Linda Ronstadt reference.
    Thank you again Steve, we really appreciate this!
    Best, Arnold

  2. Hey man, thanks for the comment. This is my first album review on Americana Highways. So, it’s particularly cool to get a comment from the artist! Just curious whether you have ever tried doubling a lead with a Tele and a Strat?

    1. Hi Steve, not Tele and Strat, but Tele and Les Paul or Strat and Les Paul. The single coils provide the bite, and the Les Paul the heft 🙂 Let’s Take a Walk has some doubling in the solo using the G&L Tele and the Les Paul.

  3. That makes sense. You’ve got some great production work on the guitars on this album in addition to a great performance.

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