California-based songwriter Deborah Crooks‘ music draws on folk, rock, Americana and the Blues. Her diverse, ever-evolving artistic path has included studying writing and poetics at The Naropa Institute, voice in India, co-writing and collaborating with her Bay Area peers and gigging throughout the Western US.
In this interview, we chat with Deborah about her newest project, influences, and more.
Full Q&A, links, and a stream of “Beauty Everywhere” are below...
"Crooks’ is simply too original to be a singer who will be known as someone who sings like…like no one. She changes gears seamlessly and in regards to Lucinda [Williams], Deborah may have a wider pallet of styles than even Lucinda."
a very nice, versatile voice, great songs, lots of variety, delicate arrangements and a more than solid band.
If I count all together, then I come out with one of the finest records I could take in this still young year.
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.
LITTLE BIRD is not an album that can be defined by one sound or label. It is quite simply smart and engaging music. If you are still one of those flks that still collects CDs try filing this one somewhere between JOHN HIATT's BRING THE FAMILY and LUCINDA WILLIAMS' CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD.
This is a quiet bit of wonder and charm. For anyone currently tired of being pummeled by music and artists always feeling the need to prove something, Deborah Crooks, wants to share a story, and you know she’s a good listener. She’s not the sort to check her phone while you explain your day, or be dismissive of life’s minor tragedies. No, because she’d rather write about the equally small triumphs which make life feel wondrous and worthwhile.
...the kicker is Blink. The song opens with just stand-up bass, and the listener is wondering where this will go. Are things about to turn jazzy? But then the drums and organ come in, and things become clear: this is reggae! There are no other instruments on this one, but none are needed. Crooks comes in on vocals, and it just gets better. She sings Blink in a sultry bluesy alto. It may not sound like these pieces should fit together, but do they ever. It doesn’t hurt that the lyrics are a beautifully written meditation on the passing of time, but that’s just a bonus.
Crooks boldly comes out with her own style, creating an exciting overall backdrop for Little Bird.
Deborah Crooks "It's All Up To You" - Although there are only seven songs on this great little CD, it is worthy enough to lift it above mere "EP" status. Deborah Crooks brings the rock, folk, blues, and Country flavors to this disc, telling stories of love and desire. Her smokey voice is perfectly suited for the Country-flavored rock and especially the blues tunes, particularly the amazing "Joy." As not a big fan of Country music, I have to say that Crooks's style has made me a convert to the Country-rock genre. You can buy this CD an listen to snippets at CD Baby.
This is a more diverse take on Americana with a distinctly female tone, and quite charming.
"Really nice work on the new one. ...wonderful colorful arrangements and warm, human sounding vocals. Top notch."
Monterey County Weekly
Deborah Crooks and Her Abundant Indie Blues
Join Brian Ball, Host of WomensRadio Music Review, in welcoming San Francisco songwriter Deborah Crooks! Deborah is entering an especially busy month, heading out on the Indie Abundance™ tour of the Northwest as well as launching a new blues project, the Crooks/Walsh Blues. In this interview you’ll learn more about the artists’ Deborah is working with, her upcoming Pacific Northwest tour and an exclusive peek at her upcoming music and footwear releases!
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 their whole life Pray and they'll make it home… 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.
" "Dream Me," is a great song of compassion."
The Owl Mag
" Crooks sings meaty lyrics. Her voice roughness is rich in its simplicity, especially against the delicately keyed "Dream Me." â€¦ [her] album is worth listening to for the storytelling and lyrics.â€
Interview/Review: Deborah Crooks' Prayer for the World