With Experience Comes Artistic Maturity: Kyle Craft Gets Darker with 'Showboat Honey'

Photo: Peter Karaviaw / Sub Pop

Portland-based rocker Kyle Craft adds more variety and edge to his music with his third full-length album, Showboat Honey.

Showboat Honey
Kyle Craft

Sub Pop

12 July 2019

In my review of Kyle Craft's 2018 album, Full-Circle Nightmare, I made a Rolling Stones analogy. If Craft's debut album, Dolls of Highland, was Aftermath, then Full-Circle Nightmare was Exile on Main Street. With that in mind, Craft's new album, Showboat Honey, is probably a combination of Goats Head Soup and Mick Jagger's work on the soundtrack to Performance. In other words, it's definitely the same artist, but with a welcome helping of variety and more than a little weirdness.

There are a number of factors at work here. Full-Circle Nightmare, produced by Decemberists bassist Chris Funk, was Craft's first album with a full band, and the result was a rousing, barroom stomp that took advantage of the band dynamic as well as a bona fide recording studio (Dolls of Highland was essentially a one-man band recorded primarily on a laptop). With that experience under his belt, there's an air of justifiable confidence going into Album Number Three. Funk is gone in favor of self-production (with assistance from keyboard player Kevin Clark and bassist Billy Slater), and the result is a more sonically experimental album.

Regardless of these occasional flights of fancy, Showboat Honey (which is also the name of Craft's stellar backing band) shows Craft's peerless songwriting shining through on every track. "2 Ugly 4 NY" is an obvious first single, sounding like T Rex stealing the riff from "Should I Stay Or Should I Go", and it's a simple, unvarnished pleasure, right down to the joyously self-deprecating lyrics ("I'm too honest to come clean / And you're too jaded to see me through"). But that burst of glam-rock ear candy is tempered nicely by opening track "Broken Mirror Pose", which rolls along on a slinky mid-tempo groove that recalls Gary Wright and Elton John battling for '70s AM radio supremacy. Craft could only be accused of shamelessly wearing his influences on his sleeve if he wasn't such a great songwriter to begin with.

Craft's music has often been compared to the early '70s glam heyday of David Bowie, and his love of Bob Dylan is obvious in the surreal imagery of the lyrics. But this is also a guy who recorded a series of singles dubbed Girl Crazy, all covers of songs by female artists ranging from Patsy Cline to TLC to St. Vincent. It's clear – his influences cover a lot of territories. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear the garage psych-rock of "O! Lucky Hand" share album space with the anguished, falsetto theatrics of "Deathwish Blue". The brief, interlude-length "Blood in the Water" is a sparse tone poem that crashes into the twangy power-pop of "Buzzkill Caterwaul", a track that wouldn't sound out of place on Full-Circle Nightmare (right down to the bitter, kiss-off lyrics: "Once you were the talk of the town / Once you were the showboat honey, but your ship sailed out").

Other highlights include the dark, luxurious love ballad "Bed of Needles #2" ("If the comet comes, nuclear bath, fallout fire, and toxic ash / Bunker towns, death on wheels / Book of Revelation's okay too / Long as it's with you"), the back-to-basics funk boogie of "She's Lily Riptide", and the psychedelic buzz of "Sunday Driver". Craft is pulling out all the stops here, with few if any missteps, thanks to the strength of the songwriting and his sympathetic backing band, whose ease with the material is obvious and palpable.

Showboat Honey may come as a mild surprise to anyone looking for the more obvious hooks of Craft's earlier albums. This one is more nuanced and requires a bit more digging, but the good stuff is all in there, and like the best classic albums, its pleasures run deep.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.