Deborah Crooks: “It’s All Up To You”

Since there's no real album art for me to mock, I'll instead fill this space with a question, which is mostly directed at my Irish compatriots, but perhaps will be relevant to some outside this rubbish bucket of rainwater: does anyone else really miss the taste of purple Calpol? Man. That stuff was king in its world of sweetener.Album name: It’s All Up To You
Artist name: Deborah Crooks
Genre: Folk Rock
Released: 11 March 2010
Label: Deborah Crooks
ZME Rating: 6/10

It’s probably my own fault for not having a wide enough frame of reference for this kind of thing, but still: the first comparison that came to mind when listening to Deborah Crooks’ It’s All Up To You EP was the relatively obscure 1992 solo album Izzy Stradlin made with the Ju Ju Hounds. Which isn’t even nearly accurate enough a comparison to withstand much interrogation. In fact, it’s pretty flimsy in almost every way.

So why did it, like a cowled crim wielding a cudgel, strike me so forcefully?

As opposed to some of Crooks’ more obvious peers – the likes of Sheryl Crowe, and perhaps a tired Alanis Morissette – what Stradlin’s record shares with It’s All Up To You is an easy, summer road-trip, I’ve-listened-to-a-lot-of-Rolling-Stones-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-show-it kind of vibe.

This is especially obvious on EP opener “Let’s Move”, which is about as intrinsically Stones-ian as making dubious romantic advances on an attractively under-aged youth. But, unlike one of Ron Wood’s Saturday evenings, this is a thoroughly pleasant experience: the guitars have just enough chunkiness to give the song some drive, but are warm enough to complement the song’s gently enthusiastic tone.

And like Stradlin, Crooks seems happiest when lovingly recycling the more rootsy elements of rock music. Song arrangements remain charmingly basic throughout: from the Memphis blues of “Joy” (a hint of Alannah “Black Velvet” Myles, easily forgiven due to Crooks’ earnestness) to the shimmering country-pop of “Falling”, tracks have an average running time of a shade over three minutes, and not a second is given to unnecessary frippery or adventure. You get the feeling that, rather than push the envelope, Crooks would rather stuff a handwritten letter to a missed love one inside it.

Of the seven songs on display, two stand out as highlights. Firstly, the fondly nostalgic “Grandma Mission Blues”, which benefits from being the most plainly personal songs on the EP – according to the blurb on her website, it was written about her Croatian-immigrant grandmother’s life in San Francisco (incidentally, while visiting the website several times to research lyrics and bios and suchlike, I was continually assaulted by the music-box atop the homepage which insisted on playing automatically, with no option to disable it, only to pause it, which is surely one of the cardinal sins a website can commit. Grr, etc.)

Secondly, the uncharacteristically melancholic “Sunday Best”, propelled by a lovely militaristic drumbeat. From what I can gather it deals with a protagonist who didn’t see eye to eye with her mother and deals with it by focusing with unusual intent on doing the laundry, or something, but this leads me to an important point about the EP, and the final similarity with Mr Stradlin: the lyrics are utterly secondary to the overall cadence and atmosphere. “Yeah nothing happens till something moves, so baby let’s move” indeed.

A conclusion then. It’s All Up To You is an splendidly pleasant way to spend half an hour, particularly if it’s playing on a car radio, or perhaps an iThing as you barrel absentmindedly along some train tracks, and can be safely deemed above average (it receives a 6 instead of a 5 by dint of having “Sunday Best” on offer). But it falls short of being truly memorable – unlike, say, a night out with Ron Wood. Although they’re equally hard to recommend very enthusiastically.

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