When Mike Craver calls Shining Down "a collection of odds and ends from my tune trunk," you can imagine he actually owns one: battered from travel, covered with decals from Paris and Rome, and possessing a built-in minibar for those long nights in distant hotel rooms. Resplendent in a purple paisley tux, maroon tie and white carnation, brimming with jaunty good will, Craver knows the role he's playing and fills it happily.That he apes Cole Porter and George Gerswhin--to the point of incorporating a slice of "Rhapsody in Blue" into a tune called "Dear Mister Gerswhin"--should come as no surprise to fans of his early work with the Red Clay Ramblers. Craver has always tended toward the theatrical, later finding his niche in a series of successful musicals.
On Shining Down, a parade of offbeat characters is treading the boards: "That Wicky Wacky Hula Hula Honka Wonka Honolulu Hawaiian Honey of Mine" comes from Radio Gals (his musical about an all-girl radio station in the 1920s). The recipient of an equine mail-order bride, whose "nose was an organ of singular strength, as renowned for its width as it was for its length," is a character from "Bosh and Moonshine," (his show about an Old West music hall). The CD's title track is sung from the points of view of four High Plains characters: a gunslinger, a Shakespearean actor, an undertaker, and a dance hall girl. And the namesake of "Diamond Lil" is a short order cook from Pennsylvania with a knack for pyromania.
There's pure sentiment, too, in a cover of "Rhode Island is Famous for You," from the 1948 musical, Inside U.S.A., and in original numbers like "Everyone's Gone to the Moon." People don't write music and wordplay like this anymore, but Craver does, with tremendous affection.
In this regard, he's only doing with a piano what revivalists like the early Ramblers did with fiddles and banjos: recreating the feel and sound of an era he loves, putting his personal stamp on it, and giving us something unique and new that seems vaguely--and wonderfully--familiar.