Material: Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning so that we can forget about it—Cranky George’s mandolinist, guitarist and vocalist is actor Dermot Mulroney of My Best Friend’s Wedding and recently seen in Shameless. This isn’t massively relevant when discussing the band’s music, but to not mention it at all would feel like an oversight. What’s more important is the fact that he is a trained musician, and Cranky George is a real band, made up of real musicians––notably, his brother Kieran and Pogues man James Fearnley. Dogstar this isn’t.
The music, a romantically morbid combination of Nick Cave, Tom Waits and, of course, the Pogues, is infectious. Trad celtic folk tunes with a rock twist give way to slow and deliberate murder ballads, and all of it blends beautifully.
Musicianship: The five guys in the band are all exemplary musicians, and each knows his job. The rhythm section stays at the rear and drives the whole thing forward. Dermot, arguably the weakest singer of the three, is at his best with the mandolin, adding flourishes when necessary. His brother Kieran near- steals the show with his fiddle; a wonderfully emotive player who can ease through the gears to “lightning-fast” territory in a blink. Fearnley’s voice is the warmest, and he’s clearly a master of many instruments. As a unit, it works extremely well.
Performance: The three guys at the front are natural frontmen, and, when they take their turn at lead vocals, each is capable of commanding the stage. They smile at each other throughout, betraying the fact that these guys (the ones that aren’t family) are longtime friends. The between-song banter is glorious, particularly when Kieran informs the audience that his brother and Fearnley had a backstage argument about Dermot’s “Irish-looking” hat.
Summary: Out of the ashes of the Low and Sweet Orchestra, Cranky George has been in the making since the core members met in 1989. That chemistry is evident throughout this show and the band, not a novelty in any way, shape or form, takes its music seriously even while joking around on stage. How popular can a band of this type get? It’s difficult to predict, but one suspects the members are happy getting together whenever they feel like it for a good time.
The Players: Sebastian Sheehan Visconti, drums; Brad Wood, bass; Dermot Mulroney, guitar, mandolin, percussion, vocals, cello; James Fearnley, piano, accordion, guitar, melodica, percussion, vocals; Kieran Mulroney, guitar, violin, ukulele, tenor guitar, vocals.
Photo by Brett Callwood
Cranky George - "Misery Road"