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Rodney DeCroo: Old Tenement Man

New Album from Vancouver Singer-Songwriter

By Ryan FrawleyPublished 7 years ago 3 min read

For a non-believer, one of the strangest stories in the Bible has to be that of Jacob wrestling with God. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, God, interestingly, lost the fight, but was able to dislocate Jacob’s hip, causing Jacob to limp for the rest of his life. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. Some wounds last forever, and for those who have been deeply scarred, healing is the work of a lifetime.

It’s fitting that Rodney DeCroo’s latest album, Old Tenement Man, contains not one, but two songs that directly reference that bitter struggle of man against God. DeCroo is a man who has made a career out of grappling with angels and demons. The Vancouver-based singer-songwriter has always been brutally candid about the darkness of his personal history. There’s no question that the man’s past contains enough trauma to provide material for several lifetimes of mournful songs. His critically acclaimed theater show, Stupid Boy In An Ugly Town, mined his splintered childhood for the gold that lies hidden in even the bleakest of environments. And 2015’s spare, elegiac Campfires On The Moon formed perhaps the most stripped-down examination of that past, quiet arrangements of piano, bass, and guitar forming a delicate backdrop to Decroo’s insightful and often shattering lyrics.

From the opening notes of DeCroo’s latest album, Old Tenement Man, it’s clear that this is a different kind of Rodney Decroo album. The martial beat and screeching feedback form an unsettling accompaniment to DeCroo’s voice, dripping with menace as he narrates the tale of Jack Taylor, prisoner and parricide. Elsewhere, "I’ve Got A Mirror" finds DeCroo in an uncharacteristically uptempo arrangement that verges on pop—a sound that forms a jarring contrast to the deep, evocative lyrics DeCroo fans have come to expect from a songwriter who is equally at home in the medium of poetry. Similarly, "Lou Reed On The Radio" tells the story of DeCroo’s grief at the loss of a friend over an infectious backing of electric guitars and driving drums. "Radio," on the other hand, treads more familiar ground, the singer’s voice soft and sweet and almost unbearably sad as he recalls his childhood attempts to escape the misery of his surroundings through music. “I used to pray, when I was a kid/ Don’t let me slip away, and that’s exactly what I did.” Despite a change in musical direction, DeCroo has lost none of his lyrical gifts.

"In The Backrooms Of The Romance" returns to the bright pop-song vibe as the singer tells the tale of a moribund relationship. "Little Hunger"’s nursery chimes belie the grim subject matter as DeCroo reflects on a past that his art has in some ways helped him transcend: “I can’t believe it sometimes/ I’m gonna be ok.”

Old Tenement Man is an album that occupies a place all its own in DeCroo’s catalog. While it retains the same profound themes as his earlier work, the pop-rock sensibility brought to the album by DeCroo and producer Lorrie Matheson means this may well be the songwriter’s most accessible album yet.

For over ten years now, Rodney DeCroo has been quietly amassing a back catalog of exceptional quality. This isn’t radio playlist time-filler, or focus-group-appeasing product designed to form an inoffensive backdrop to car commercials. This is art, the real thing, the kind of music people complain isn’t getting made anymore. It’s time you gave him a listen. You no longer have any excuse.

“Is it murder, is it art/ What I do to my heart?” DeCroo asks at one point on Old Tenement Man. Whatever it is, let’s hope he keeps doing it if it produces albums of the quality of Old Tenement Man.

Check out more from Rodney DeCroo at his bandcamp.

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About the Creator

Ryan Frawley

Towers, Temples, Palaces: Essays From Europe out now!

Novelist, entomologist and cat owner. Ryan Frawley is the author of many articles and stories and one novel, Scar, available from online bookstores everywhere.

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    Ryan FrawleyWritten by Ryan Frawley

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