Review: Karrnnel, “Crazy Old Man” and “SKMB”

Karrnnel

Releasing one album is an ambitious enterprise for any musician… releasing two simultaneously is hugely daring.  Karrnnel Sawitsky (who readers might know best as a member of The Fretless) has done exactly that, putting two new projects out into the world: “Crazy Old Man,” a project that features not only his sinuous fiddle sounds but also his singing (for the first time on record, apparently), and “SKMB,” a collaborative album of songs with guests Joey Landreth, Amy Matysio (who is also Karrnnel’s wife), and Ken Hamm, three of Karrnnel’s favorite musicians from Saskatchewan and Manitoba (SK + MB = SKMB, get it?).

If you’re already a fan of Karrnnel’s via The Fretless, you’ll find plenty to love, especially on “Crazy Old Man.”  Both albums also find him experimenting not only with a “copper fiddle,” but also pedal effects in tandem with his already mad violin skills.  If this is Karrnnel’s first time singing on an album, hopefully it will not be the last – he has a great singing voice and it’s awesome to hear him exploring that facet of his considerable musical talents.  Here, he also breaks loose a bit from the chamber folk experience that is The Fretless; as an example, check out “Sister Sister,” an upbeat fiddle tune that features not only a bouncing rhythm but also a horn section – a combination that works wonderfully well.

As mentioned above, “SKMB” represents Karrnnel’s chance to work with some of his favorite musicians from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  Joey Landreth (who also plays guitar on both albums), Amy Matysio, and Ken Hamm provide vocals for the album.  If the fiddle is featured less prominently on this album (used more as accompaniment and accent than star player), “SKMB” feels slightly more cohesive than its sibling album, held together by the use of vocals throughout.  Matysio, who is probably much better known as a stage and screen actress, is a wonderful surprise as a singer here; hopefully this project is the start of a new aspect of her career as well.

Both albums have been my musical companions over the last couple of weeks, and I commend them both to you as enjoyable listening.  When we saw The Fretless recently, we were sad to miss hearing Karrnnel, but these two projects are terrific and we hope to hear this material live at some point soon.

Visit Karrnnel’s website.

Lesley Carter

Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, and an aspiring multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, mandola, ukulele). In real life, I work in the field of technology.

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