There are some artists who grew up with their feet firmly planted in the tradition of country and blues, and while some may argue that to stay in the past is to look backwards, Deborah Crooks makes the case for a return to the roots of rock in her latest record, It’s All Up To You.
This doesn’t mean the album is stuck in the past. Instead, Crooks uses her skills to build an experience that will separate her from the country pop acts growing more popular each day. Her music’s more in the vein of Johnny Cash than Carrie Underwood. With the main focus on her voice, lyrics, and guitar playing, Crooks’ latest makes for a relaxing afternoon listen.
The record starts with “Let’s Move,” a slow burner with an explosive chorus. A steady, thumping guitar strum opens the track, accompanied by an upbeat piano. While mid-paced verse will keep your attention, the chorus is an electric eruption, a shot of adrenaline that kicks all of the instrumentation up. The piano’s pushed to the forefront and the guitar gains volume. It’s an unexpected change of pace that separates the song from the rest of the album, which is more restrained.
“Grandma Mission Blues” is a decent follow-up, with light drum patterns and a whistling organ conjuring images of an old-fashioned steam train. But Crooks’ highest point comes in the title track. What sounds like congas and a flamenco guitar create a slow Latin feel. The mood takes a sudden shift when classical, dark strings fill in the background and Crooks’ tired, desperate voice breaks through. She sings like she’s trying to get through to someone who just won’t listen. While she really wants a change to happen, she leaves the decision up to the person she’s confronting. Hints of hope are found beneath the surface of her exhausted resignation that there’s not much more she can do. Crooks’ worn-out vocals and the strings transform “It’s All Up To You” from average to excellent, creating a deep emotional and musical piece.
The next two tracks, “Falling” and “Someone Needs You Now”, work as a pair though they’re very different in music and mood. The former is a happy affair. The keys throughout the song create a light, poppy feel while the lyrics are full of lively images, such as allusions to birds and a brand-new day. It’s a short, enjoyable love song with the simple chorus of “I’m falling. Catch me.” “Falling” is not overtly lovey-dovey, but there’s no mistaking the intended romance. The latter of the pair is a sequel of sorts, a darker second act to its bright counterpart. Complete with the sounds of a slow horse gallop, “Someone Needs You Now” is the most Western song on the album. It’s another romantic song, but the optimism has eroded into desperate yearning. In “Falling,” love was within reach, but in this case, it’s fallen out of Crooks’ grasp. The two complement each other wonderfully.
If you enjoy traditional country music, this record would make a fine addition to your collection. If you don’t, it’s still worth a listen. It’s All Up To You separates itself from the mainstream country pack and moves in a whole variety of unexpected directions. After all, it’s always good to take a look back once in a while.