Sunday, September 02, 2007

Through The Wars

Rodney DeCroo, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 2007. Thanks to Astro Guy.

I stumbled across Rodney DeCroo purely by chance. It was the morning of a July Saturday, the second day of the Vancouver Folk Festival, and I was hanging out with Darling Daughter. I thought the Brand New Old School session looked promising, with Old Man Luedecke on that bill. So we settled down at Stage Two.

Sharing the stage was The Trucker's Memorial, an unassuming duo consisting of a bewhiskered DeCroo and the bespectacled Rae Spoon. My friends, Dearest Daughter and I were transfixed by the lovely alt-country they spun. And when Rodney's aching, gravelly voice got two-thirds through the poignant "Blue Rooms," tears welled up suddenly behind my sunglasses.

When comes the day for me to die
Well, I hope no-one I know
Sits around and cries
'Cause I've just gone back
To my place in that sky

Darling Daughter, seated in front of me intently watching the stage, didn't notice. For that I was grateful; while I think I could have tried to explain how DeCroo had managed in one simple verse to tap into a reservoir of loss I'd filled over the past year, it would have been, well, awkward.

My festival volunteering commitments meant I was only able to catch a brief additional glimpse of Trucker's Memorial onstage that weekend. But I loaded up on a couple of CDs, since what I had heard had left me eager to hear more. So what do you get, Dear Friends, when you listen to Rodney DeCroo? You get honest, raw, gritty, lucid, songs set to paced, elegantly sufficient country strumming. Stories of disappointment, hurt, regret, longing, and realization. And to misquote Johnny Rotten, he means every single word of it, maaan. You want soul? You got it here in spades. He lays it bare for you to see and hear, but without the melodrama and airbrushing of mainstream C&W.

Alright, alright, I hear you all clamouring for comparisons, for waypoints, for metaphor. Sigh, how to do this without sounding trite? Oh well, here goes: take the absolute best bits of Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan (yes, I know, even I can see there are good bits of Dylan), a handful of gravel, a lungful of cigarette smoke, and a bucket of pain and foibles. Mix them all up real good in a pair of battered cowboy boots, then pour into a six-string. And enjoy.

DeCroo's background certainly gives one a good idea of the rough grit whence his music springs. He grew up in a Bible-bashingly Baptist, blue-collar Pittsburg home. His Vietnam-vet father took the family to Canada when he was five so as to avoid a second tour of duty. However, the war had already damaged his psyche and DeCroo's mother took little Rodney back to Pittsburgh for safety. The teen years were (mis)spent up to no good, and at sixteen he fled the cops to Canada, where he joined his father drinking and brawling around the seamier, gothicky bits of the BC interior. After a few years bumming around Vancouver in a similar self-destructive vein and style, DeCroo found college and music, in that order. And things began to turn around, somewhat.

I was fortunate enough to chat with Rodney a couple of times during the festival, and what struck me most about him was his kindness and generosity. Indeed, his gentleness seemed at odds with his history, and I caught myself later on thinking that maybe the press releases and articles I had read after our meeting had exaggerated his past. But I think that through the another kind of grit, the kind that's synonymous with fortitude, he has shaped the man he is today out of the man he was.

Speaking of his generosity, Rodney was kind enough to share with me a few unreleased tracks, which I can't wait to share in turn with you. All of them are simply fantastic. But first, if you're keen to get your mitts on his material (and you SHOULD be by now!), you can start with his 2004 album, Rodney DeCroo And The Killers (no, not those Killers, silly!) which you can e-buy here or purchase here. His 2006 release, War Torn Man, you can e-buy here or get in hard copy here. Then there's the magnificent Trucker's Memorial CD, which you can get from here . Finally, he is frequently on the road, so drop by his Myspace page to find out when he's next in your neck of he woods. Then go see him. Vancouverites, take note: he plays the Red Room on 27 September.

Right, onto the music - enjoy!

Rodney DeCroo - War Torn Man
Alternate version of the song from the live album of the same name. A stark, powerfully haunting track about DeCroo's scarred father. "Once I heard my daddy cry / I was six and I didn't know why / All alone in the living room dark / With a bottle and a shotgun and a bombed-out heart."

Rodney DeCroo with Sam Parton - Rain Rain
Unreleased duet with Sam Parton of local Vancouver bluesy folksters The Be Good Tanyas. The released version can also be found on War Torn Man.

Rodney DeCroo with Sam Parton - Black Earth Green Fields
The Be Good Tanya lends her talents on this track as well. Apparently a DeCroo/Parton collaborative album is due out sometime this year, which, based on these two tracks, is indeed something to look forward to!

Rodney Decroo - Mocking Bird
Another beautifully sparse and unsettling track of withered love and betrayal.

I'm mighty pleased to have made Rodney DeCroo's acquaintance. Even if he did make me cry like a wimp.