Dark melodrama is the order of the day on Night Of A Thousand Crimes. Where many interesting musicians do things that make the whole question of style a problematic idea, JB Newman & The Black Letter Band take style and make it the whole shplang in their whang. On the one hand this means that their music is extremely stylish, a smoky fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, jump blues and jazz that borrows the dark twang of 60s surf rock and strikes a pose like James Dean (or maybe more like Lou Reed’s metrosexual appropriation on the cover of Transformer). And on the other hand, it means that the significance of the music is articulated as much in its stylistic manipulations and juxtapositions as in its lyrics and melodies.

The album is a formal exploration of the atmospheric fumes produced by various combinations of alchemical reagent; Quentin Tarantino, Raymond Chandler, David Lynch, backstreet jazz, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, Motown, garage and The Twilight Zone. These are all quite audible in the band’s pungent sound, as are several of the last half-century’s darker songwriters.

The musicianship is faultless, precisely evoking groove and atmosphere with a real sense of purpose, and the lyrics inhabit a mythical territory that renders urban banality as biblical epic. Newman’s vocals are the absolute heart of the album, however, striking a hugely charismatic balance between passionate commitment and hokey mannerism. This is an extremely intelligent and massively entertaining record, that seems not to take itself seriously enough to pack the punch it does. Truly splendid.

- Oliver Arditi
oliverarditi.com