Keith Morris and The Crooked Numbers Psychopaths & Sycophants

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Submitted by Keith Morgan

Out of the underground and into the spotlight, folk singer Keith Morris and his band The Crooked Numbers offer a plethora of deep thinking songs on their latest effort, Psychopaths & Sycophants. The Virginia-based singer/songwriter (not to be confused with alternative icon Keith Morris of Black Flag fame), manages to balance darkness and light in the nine tracks on Psychopaths, although the overwhelming theme of this album speaks to the rebellious nature of the human spirit.

The opening track, "The Future," instantly evokes a Stooges-like blues swing in its swagger, never relenting in its dangerous sensibility. Keith's Dylan style crooning is peppered with organ moans and an able backing choir, whose chants seem to churn us deeper and deeper into Keith's haunting landscape. There are shades of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Nick Cave in his brooding, but none of this feels derivative in nature or style, mostly because of Keith's gritty descriptive lyricism. As he pleads for us to repent during the last stanza, one can't help but feel the ironic rit that brushes against the speakers. "What Happened to the Party" slows down the tempo a bit, but the darkness seems to give way to a foggy surrealism that makes perfect company or the spoken word layered over it. It isn't until "Thousand Mile Stairs" that the light seems to break through the clouds, as this bayou style folk song slinks by like an easy summer afternoon.

This is far from country music, but there is a vast appreciation for countryside pastoralism in this kind of music. The reverberating slide guitar in the background lingers for a minute until the vocals start back up again, but the seamlessness of the transition is enough to make you forget you're listening to a studio album and not an intimate backyard concert. Indie rock fans will find plenty of comfort in the raw elements of this record that hide behind its immaculate production value. Why do we always have to assume that organic music can't have that polished feeling? Ignorant music snobs will be confounded by the complexities of this album.

The title track from Psychopaths & Sycophants is by far the sexiest on the album, creeping its way into full stereo before you have the chance to prepare for its overwhelming orchestra of instruments; horn, piano, organ and guitar all dueling for dominance in a sonic wonder storm that grips the listener like a tightrope around your chest. The garage rock style riffing on "67%" comes exploding out of nowhere, a readymade relief from the dirge rock that envelops the first leg of the record. Its political lyrics cut deep and echo across the consciousness thanks in part to Keith's backing band, who continue to conjure those pastoral landscapes with every organ riff. It's hard to pick a favorite song from Psychopaths, because each offers such diverse color and rhythm depending on the mood of the audience when they sit down for a listen. All in all, The Crooked Numbers and their frontman have installed an instant indie classic in this release.