It's hard to shrug off the genius of Neil Diamond. In fact, he only truly sucks when he's being channeled through someone else -- especially someone once famed for having such a distinct and idiosyncratic voice. Yeah, we're looking at you, Eric Bachmann. Since the ex-Archers of Loaf songwriter formed Crooked Fingers six years ago, he's shifted from aping Tom Waits to jacking the gravelly, garrulous ramble of Neil Diamond. At first -- as on 2002's Reservoir Songs, where Bachmann ably covers his hero's "Solitary Man" -- it sounded cool. But on Dignity and Shame, he's shamelessly slipped into a full-on Diamond impersonation that's more nagging than novel. Instead of girls on the verge of Kentucky womanhood, Shame's songs are teeming with drunks, cheap lamps and bleeding friends, but their piano-pop veneer has been buffed to too mirror-like a luster, erasing most of their author's gritty credibility in the process. Crooked Fingers would do well to reach a little deeper inside itself for inspiration next time around; otherwise, the group risks becoming nothing more than Brother Loaf's Traveling Simulation Show.
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