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Some of Scrapomatic’s best characters have been people you probably wouldn’t want to know unless they were in a song: a woman called “Sexy Chocolate” who, when she’s supposed to be saved, asks “Was that a baptism or a bath?” (“Louisianna Anna”) and a grouchy, half-deaf woman who works in a dingy Chinese restaurant (“Lotus”). The devil in their songs is always in the details, and their albums stand apart from each other because every song is crafted just a bit differently. There’s a little more sweetness and twang on I’m a Stranger (And I Love the Night) and a little bit less of the Tom Waits influence that marks the band’s first two albums, but there are still heaping helpings of grit and grime.
In “Mother of My Wolf,” Mattison recounts his first meeting with a woman who upended his entire life and spins this says-it-all couplet: “I said ‘I just come out from high school’/She said ‘I read Camus in jail.’” After she turned him on to the seamy side of life, she left him without a warning. Now she’s back to surprise him with their child. The first track on the album, “Alligator Love Cry,” is about a serial killer, although the chorus begins with a poetic down-home image: “You’ll find me in a shotgun shack/Beneath the moonlight and magnolia trees.”
But “Crime Fighter” has a sexy, languorous grind, and Mattison turns the unusual metaphor into a showcase for his remarkable falsetto. Olson’s “How Unfortunate for Me” is a brilliant, candlelit piece of romantic irony that feels like it came straight from some perfect Paris café: “With you I am enchanted/How unfortunate for me,” Mattison sings. The title track is a look back at one romance that’s ended and another that still burns bright: the narrator’s love for New York. It’s a far cry from the complaints about the city in “The Long Way Home” from the band’s second album (that album, coincidentally, was named Alligator Love Cry.) “I’m a Stranger (And I Love the Night)” and “Gentrification Blues” might remind fans of Mattison’s “Midnight in Harlem,” a gem now performed by Mattison in his other gig, the Tedeschi Trucks Band: they’re songs about loving cities – even the parts that shouldn’t be lovable.
That’s not to say everybody’s happy in the Scrapomatic universe. Elsewhere Mattison complains, or just observes, “A satisfied man wouldn’t choose what you put me through.” The narrator in “I Surrender” says he’s leaving because he’s tired of big battles and little games. But there is a little more peace in the world, at least if you know where to look and you’re lucky enough to find it.
I’m a Stranger (And I Love the Night) is Scrapomatic’s second album with lead guitarist Dave Yoke, and while this is a songwriters’ band, Yoke gets some moments to really shine. On “Alligator Love Cry,” his guitar mutters and uh-uhs against Olson’s rhythm pattern and a marching military drum part. On “The Party’s Over,” Yoke’s guitar surfs on top of the groove and seems to break free of it at the same time, blending with Mattison and Olson’s voices to create many of the emotional high points of the album. Another moving moment comes during the chorus of “Malibu (That’s Where It Starts),” when, as narrator, Mattison takes his voice back into falsetto range while hiding his feelings behind a dissatisfied travelogue and asking if he can just have a smoke. I'm a Stranger also features contributions from Ted Pecchio on bass and drummer Tyler Greenwell, which gives the album a real sense of depth.