First, it was “The Sylvan Song” and “Fall Down As The Rain” as musical highlights in the CD with the latter song as the title.
Then came the release of a host of compelling compositions with “Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog” (“John Jones,” “Freddy the Falcon,” “Brooklyn in July,” “Blue Tattoo” as well as the title cut) generally featuring historical events and figures in and around Ithaca, New York and the state itself.
With “Darkling & the BlueBird Jubilee,” Joe Crookston re-enters the realm of storytelling: especially spiritual and with the carving out of room for listener interpretation, paving the way for individual takeaway from the various tales.
“Good Luck John” depicts the yin-yang of instantaneously ascribing a value judgment to life’s events minus any period of time-passing perspective, and also not. Label it the gauging of happenings as a ‘it just is what it is — at least for the time being’ portrayal.
In the mental illness and family-driven “The Nazarene,” Crookston amply demonstrates his songwriting motif in which observations/facts are again offered without the tipping point weight of positive or negative being attached. Two examples are:
” …Mom thinks she’s Jesus Christ the Nazarene …”
“… down the hall into the room where the other prophets are …”
Such ‘epithets’ as crazy or sick are not utilized, yet portrayed, because the illness isn’t the point, or at least not the primary focus.
“The Nazarene” is the most haunting and compelling cut. Given radio play, this song will be a stop-listeners-in-their-tracks composition.
In the title cut “Darkling and the BlueBird Jubilee,” Crookston starkly illustrates that objects and even life itself can be wrestled away but not values and how one lives life. A key lines:
“… where love and persistence are the alter where I kneel …”
Another captivating cut, “Caitlin at the Window,” intertwines the lives of Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin McNamara Thomas. From the perspective of the latter, it reflects on the haunting of their tumultuous twining and his final resting place in Lougharne, Wales (which also became hers).
“I Sing” is philosophical gospel blues set to a banjo background.
In “Everything Here Is Good,” all unfurls in an almost effortless flow (that’s one of Crookston’s major artistic skills). Give it a listen and you’ll understand.
Sounding as if straight out of a hymnal but never directly affiliating with such is the backbone of “A Friend Like You.”
What Crookston has done with the liner notes for each song dovetails with the overall arc of the release. The offering for the title cut, “Darkling & the BlueBird Jubilee,” reads: good? bad? hope. cynicism. triumph? be. accept. struggle. battle. accept. good? bad? evil. dark. light. transcend. continue. overcome.
Two other elements that remains constant throughout Crookston’s work are his ‘nothing is forced, all seems organic’ inviting vocals and the instrumentation surrounding his lyrics. Concerning the latter, he brings to mind Martin Simpson, who during his period fronting the group “Band of Angels,” would improvise with guitar play in between songs and what that produced was just as engaging as anything on the set list.
There are stories told here, maybe not as fully sketched as those on “Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog.” This one is in the vein of “The Sylvan Song” — more left to the perception and discernment of the listener.
“Darkling & the BlueBird Jubilee” is definitely one of the top releases of the year, a very enjoyable compilation. Crookston may be under-recognized but his multi-faceted musical strengths make him one of the best today.
- “I Sing – 2:33
- “Caitlin At The Window” – 4:17
- “Mercy Now” – 5:10 Mary Gauthier)
- “Good Luck John” – 3:42
- “The Nazarene” – 4:42
- “Darkling & the BlueBird Jubilee” – 3:20
- “Everything Here is Good” – 3:21
- “Wilderness Alone” – 3:21
- “Blue” – 3:43
- “A Friend Like You” – 3:22
- “To Keep You Warm” – 2:46
- “Darkling/Bluebird (Fear & Transcend) – 3:59