Jeff Crosby – Waking Days (2015)

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Drawing from Nashville, L.A.’s Laurel Canyon and his native Idaho environs, Jeff Crosby has assimilated a classic country-rock sound that combined with his deeply soulful and earnest vocal is as comfortable as a broken-in pair of sneakers and as comforting as Momma’s home cooked meal. Blessed with a clear-minded worldview and ability to string weighty words together unpretentiously without ever getting corny, Crosby is also a damned fine songwriter. He could probably make a good living in Music City just doing that, writing songs.

Instead, Crosby tours and records with his backing band The Refugees and delivers his songs with the care and nuance no one else could give them, anyway. Waking Days (released November 6, 2015) is his third long player, again made with the Refugees (brother Andy Crosby (bass), Will Prescott (drums) and Dave Manion (pedal steel/ guitar) along with some standout guest musicians like pedal steel master Brian Whelan. But the center of all this remains Crosby himself, who like Lucinda Williams, can spin a narrative of heartache, hope and personal encounters with an effortless intimacy, and match the mood to the right chords. It all transcends the style in which these tunes are played.

Producer John Gilbertson seems to understand that well. Wrapping these melodies in clean, warm production, the whole amalgam of instruments and vocal harmonies function as an empyreal whole. Crosby himself speaks to this when he remarks that “this record has more soundscapes and has stretched out the atmospheric tones that are floating around the songs.” You find it in the perfect blend of electric and acoustic guitars of “City Girls” or the shimmering piano, electric piano and pedal steel within “Water Shapes and the Canyons.”

And yet, Crosby’s vocal is mixed well up front and his portrayals are able to reach out and engage. A natural turn of a phrase like “these tines are killing me, I’m just killing time,” and “my demons follow me like a stray dog” are found in nearly every stanza. These are timeless topics about assessing the aftermath of broken relationships (“Emily,” “I Should Be Happy”, “Homeless and the Dreamers”), hope (“Only One I Need”) and autobiographical encounters (“City Girls”, “Red White and Blue”), with “Red” adorned with Whelan’s gorgeous pedal steel.

Every song has its own character, spanning from the calm country ballad “Only One I Need” to the out-and-out rocker “What’s Normal Now.” And tacked on to the end of the concluding “Waking Days” is a hidden track with only Crosby on acoustic guitar, playing a Dylan-esque tune about – it seems – a visit to the segregated society of the Dominican Republic with a timely reference the new crowned World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Jeff Crosby has made a steady progression from his first EP Too Many Walls to where he is now. Nothing has been compromised along the way, just refined. And that’s enough to make Waking Days his best thus far and one of the best singer-songwriter albums you’re likely to come across this year.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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