CD Review: Deborah Crooks – Water to the Ashes
The impressive full-length debut by Bay Area songwriter Deborah Crooks, backed here by a full electric band playing a mix of mostly pensive, slow-to-midtempo rock with subtlety and good taste. Crooks’ voice evokes Chrissie Hynde’s late period, able to shift from a gentle, knowing murmur to a soaring wail in a split-second. The music defies association with any era other than perhaps this one: no 70s folkie-blues clichés, no 80s synthesizer schlock, no boring 90s trip-hop or silly samples. The production may be lush, but the overall feeling is consistently raw and emotional. There’s a lot of longing, regret and angst here, but it’s all familiar: pretty much anybody can relate to the catalog of disappointments and dashed hopes that Crooks chronicles. The cd kicks with its title track, a characteristically pensive ballad. The cd’s second cut, Living Proof is a stark, haunting minor key tale of living on the fringes, with spooky violin accents that join with the guitar, building to a long, screaming crescendo on the last verse before literally falling off the edge. Anchored by somber Hammond organ, St. Anthony is a viscerally wrenching requiem:
Mountains crumble underfoot
And glaciers creak and moan
Songbirds sing the same song a whole lot
Pray and we’ll make it home
Ain’t that the way love is?
You torched the fields
And you wait for all that grass to grow back
The brief, fragmentary Little Girl is as hopeful a song as there is here, picking up the pace doublespeed at the end with some nicely bracing slide guitar. The 6/8 ballad Where You’re Going clangs along on a pretty 12-string melody: “Here come those clouds, it’s gonna pour again,” Crooks laments. Big Wide Ocean, from her previous ep Turn It All Red, is a slow soulful ballad featuring more vivid, incisive lead guitar. Of all the cuts here, Roll Back Time most closely evokes the Pretenders, albeit in quiet ballad mode with its echoey violin and fingerpicked guitar. The rest of the cd reveals the band adept at upbeat, Cajun-inflected rock and minimalist soul balladry but not country. That’s a minor quibble, though: give this to someone you know who detests singer/songwriters and you will change their mind, if only for one album. “Put me on your ipod,” it murmurs, bleak but resonant. Deborah Crooks doesn’t have any NYC area gigs scheduled at this point; her next San Francisco show is Mon Oct 20 at 8 at the On the Corner Café, 359 Divisadero at Oak
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