Sean Croghan – From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue

Sean Croghan
From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue

Leery at first, by the end of this album I could only pause a moment, shake my head, and hit play to start it again. After the second or third listens, I figured I had it pegged, but again by the ending I was re-thinking my opinions about Sean Croghan. In cases like this, it’s better not to take the album as a whole, which is really the best way to listen to any CD, but to look at the songs themselves. Yet you lose something that way, and I find it hard to dissect this CD.
This is the solo debut for Croghan, former lead singer of the Portland, Oregon area bands Crackerbash and Jr. High. Handling the guitar and singing duties on this release, with help from friends from Jr. High, The Minders, Freewheelers and others, he has done something quite amazing here. He’s managed to recreate little bits of the wonder from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and through to today, incorporating elements of songwriters like Elvis Costello, Elliott Smith, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits into a blend of music that’s just short of brilliant. And he’s quite possibly proved he has more soul than all your favorite indie rock artists put together.
The only honest fault I can find is that the mix of styles can be a bit daunting for a few listens, as if he’s unsure which direction to go. For example, we start with the Tom Waits meets The Wallflowers quiet and moody feel on “Gweneveire” and progress into the up-tempo rocker “Cupids Credit Card,” which allows his often gruff vocals to thrive in a more bare-bones rock environment. “Fridays Face in Sundays suit” (no apostrophes used) evokes images of a beer-soaked Tom Waits in a smokey bar, belting out a quiet yet soulful song of childhood memories and deeply personal insight. Croghan pulls it off wonderfully, knowing when not to overwhelm with vocals, using a subtle approach that mixes well with the soft guitar and piano. And with “Little Miss Whiplash,” Croghan builds on Elvis Costello’s trademark sound, incorporating quick beats and hefty doses of keyboard with very poppy vocals and a 70’s influence to his style of rock.
“John McConnells Ghost” is a much quieter, folk-influenced affair, subtle yet nicely flowing with just enough keyboard, and “Space Room” is a piano-lead soulful song, with Croghan almost crooning the passionate lyrics. Then Croghan begins to lead you to the finish. “It’s Gonna Be Alright” is his most rocking track, still complete with keyboard and rocking rhythms, but his vocals and guitar taking more of a lead. By the ending, he’s wailing away on his guitar, belting out the lyrics, and you can just see the sweat flying.
It’s quite possible that “Otis Tolstoy” is the best finisher of any album I’ve heard. Croghan works the listener, flowing between upbeat pop and rock and quieter, more subtle numbers before finishing with his coup de grace. Evoking great soulful sounds and Procol Harum-like intensity, this song practically screams intensity and sincerity. Starting slow, it builds throughout its six-minute length, and by the end, Croghan is singing with as much soul and passion as I’ve heard anyone sing, building the song to it’s breathtaking climax.
It’s hard to listen to From Burnt Orange to Midnight Blue through to the end without starting over. That’s the effect “Otis Tolstoy” in all its wonder has on me. While I’d say that’s one of my favorite songs of the year and most definitely the best album finishers, Croghan has managed to create an album that should compete as album of the year as well. Take note of where your favorite indie rockers got their influences from, because Croghan is using them all here. Soulful, poppy, folky, or all-out rocking, Croghan can do it all.