Being influenced by (or ripping-off, depending on how you want to look at it) the soulful, gritty work of American blues artists is a tradition as old as rock and roll itself. French artist Don Cavalli sounds, no doubt quite intentionally, like he showed up on the scene 45 years too late, wanting to pay tribute to his hard livin' heroes the same way that the Stones and the Yardbirds did when they started doing Muddy Waters impressions. Cryland is, for the most part, a collection of psyched-up blues riffs that underpin lyrics full of anachronistic clichés about old-time religion and various other tried-and-true topics about which people sing The Blues. Cavalli’s oddball album is full of throwbacks and sonic simulacra that, at points, wouldn't sound out of place next to a Cream album. But the more compelling parts of Cryland are when the album diverges entirely from its bluesy aspirations, and instead explores a less constrained form of outsider weirdness.
The Wah-heavy, harmonica blaring onset of "Gloom" sets the stage for a familiar 12-bar progression over which Cavalli sings, like Jack Bruce with a sore throat, lyrics about "Gloom up a risin'” which despite being well trod territory, are imbued some sort of foreboding sincerity in their off-kilter delivery. The first hint of Cavalli’s weird side are the chords that underpin "Gloom,” as they’re reduced to minimal squelches that preserve a melody while the riffs around it shred through intermittent accentuations. "River" continues Cryland’s exploration of Robert Johnsonian themes with a mushmouthed mantra ("Goin' to river to drown my sorrows / Kill my pain / Wash my sins," etc.) recited over a strangely electrified, tinny, barely-present guitar vibration.
Tracks like “Wonder Chairman” and “Cherie” find Cavalli hitting his stride, assuming a less restrained, more throaty and near-Beefheart-esque snort. More visceral and gruff, these songs emphasize both the lo-fi minimalism of the instrumentation and the strength of Cavalli’s voice. But beneath Cavalli’s obsession with American blues is something stranger. In “New Hollywood Babylon,” the album’s most compelling track, Cavalli eschews the blues entirely in favor of an upbeat, madcap, sugary-loop of lo-fi guitar, his overdriven vocals retelling a playful litany of non-sequiturs.
While it’s tempting to make some grand statement about the French and blues music, there’s nothing particularly Gallic about Cryland. Cavalli appears to be a rogue frog. His odd cadence, bargain-basement production values and penchant for minimal rhythms constructed out of tinny, staccato shocks evoke Beefheart at their best – of course, at their worst, they sound like just another take on a worn cliché. But parts of Cryland transcend a warped take on the blues, and portend a warped take on everything, giving the impression that Don Cavalli is capable of creating music that’s way far out in the fringes, beyond the constraints of nostalgia for one particular genre.