A Million Things to Say
Artist: Crooked Smile
Label: Bulletproof Records
Tracks: 13 Tracks/63:25 Minutes
Crooked Smile's first release is an introspective, self-aware project.
The lyrics, written by Jonathan Hart, detail the difficulties people encounter
while trying to find their place in the world. In "I Spin" he sings:
My petty little worries
All of the songs are written in the first or second person, but Hart
opens up the view by giving characters very different from himself a voice.
"Grow to Love" brings the listener inside a woman's abusive marriage. "Subway
Station" lets homeless heroin addicts have their say. "1929" uses an historical
metaphor to define a personal modern-day disaster.
My precious wasted time
My damaged possessions
At least they are mine.
Over and again, Hart points to a hope outside himself and his gray
world without dismissing the reality of life's unpleasantness. He knows
there is light on the horizon once someone gets to the end of themselves.
In "Nothingness" he pleads:
Oh, take me I'm so tired
The album never mentions Christ by name, but His influence is evident
in every positive sentiment. The last song, "Winter in my Soul," ends hopefully,
"There is a punishment for my crime I know I don't have to take."
Of doing things my way
And in this present state of nothingness
This is all I ask, this is all I ask
Catch me before I hit bottom.
The album is well-produced with Hart's clear voice grounding the
well-orchestrated electric and acoustic guitars to the unplugged end of
the amplified continuum. It's a good, solid listen with enough variety
in tempo and style to keep it interesting. The songs are on the long side;
nothing shorter than four minutes and some well over six, indicating that
Crooked Smile is not interested in making radio hits. What they have delivered
is over an hour of smart college rock that will spark as many questions
in its listeners as it offers answers.
By Linda T. Stonehocker
What do you get when you take some 77s, Dryve, and Vigilantes of
Love, mix them all together, pour in some folk and blues, and then throw
in a little Rose Blossom Punch, Jars of Clay, and just a dash of The Spin
Doctors for good measure? You get Crooked Smile, an aggressive-folk
modern alternative band filled with electric and acoustic guitars and lots
On the record, Crooked Smile is Jonathan Hart - electric and acoustic
guitar and vocals; Nathan Rudolf - bass and vocals (Rudolf recently left
the band); Matthew Whitley - lead electric and acoustic guitar; and Brennan
Simmons - drums, percussion, and vocals. Their finished sound is
crisp and well put-together. If you are looking for a wall of sound,
you won't find it here--Crooked Smile's sound is softer giving it that
folk-like quality. The guitar work is excellent and should impress
even the uninformed listener. Hart's vocals start out easy to listen to,
but by the end of the album; they get worn a little thin for me, kind of
the way Bill Mallonee's (VoL) vocals do. David Vanderpoel, VP of
A&R for Gray Dot Records, put in a lot of work to make this project
a success. From artwork to producing, he is almost a fifth member
of the band. Without his touches, this would not be the finely polished
endeavor it is.
From the Spin Doctor - like "Keep on Spilling," to the heavily
blues-influenced "Palm Sunday," to the almost country "Not Enough (Thanks
is ...)," Crooked Smile gives you a lot of different styles to appreciate.
There is a lot here to take in -- over 60 minutes of music in thirteen
songs. Albums that long can get dull and repetitive, but Crooked Smile
keeps it fresh, interesting, and entertaining.
I say entertaining with some hesitation because the dark aspect
of Hart's lyrics can really weigh you down if you miss the subtle hope
that is also portrayed in them. They may not be suited to all listeners
due to the darkness and the lack of specific mention of God, but there
are references there for those who do listen. I have to admit that
they satisfy my tastes just fine. The lyrics would not prevent Crooked
Smile's music from crossing over into the mainstream market.
Overall, this is a fine first effort, but there is room to grow.
I will definitely keep an ear open to see how these guys come out.
By Mark Aylor