Chattanooga singer-songwriter Mike Crowder has been a staple of the local music scene for years, offering solo performances across town, as well as kicking up some indie rock noise with Dark Horse Ten. His instincts swing from country-fueled stomps to classic rock momentum to singer-songwriter narratives with an ease that eludes most other musicians.
Crowder’s ability to casually traverse these various sounds and musical avenues is a testament to his understanding of why these particular rhythms have had such an impact on both artists and fans over the past 50 or 60 years. He doesn’t simply approach his work with a single aesthetic in mind; his songs are born from a far more expansive and cinematic viewpoint. And with the upcoming release of his new record, “Playing a Part,” he’s looking to further expand upon this distinct and indie rock/Americana-tinged noise.
Opening the album with “Every Road,” a punchy indie rock story that highlights the differences between choices we make in our lives and those that people would make for us, he develops and maintains a nicely melodic momentum that carries him through the rest of the songs. He drops the muscle a bit on the next song, “What You Don’t Know,” and delivers an elegiac country shuffle threaded through with a beautiful and mournful pedal steel that wanders around the track like a ghost.
His lyrics touch on aspects of regret, nostalgia and the consequences of roads not taken, but doesn’t wallow in a tired melodrama—he acknowledges the things in his past that caused pain or frustration and uses them to show how our individual lives are created both through the things we plan and the things that simply happen to us. Possessing a gifted voice for pastoral persuasion, Crowder imbues these songs with their own distinct personalities and, like all great storytellers, gives us a glimpse of his personal musical and emotional associations through the experiences explored in each track.
Using the sinewy textures of his previous work with Dark Horse Ten, along with the graceful country rhythms that have long played around on the periphery of his music, he crafts a delicate but imaginative blend of inspirations and genres. There’s never been one single way that he has approached his music, and on “Playing a Part,” he reveals just how multifaceted his work can really be. Drawing on classic folk and country histories, as well as some denser rock sounds, he fashions a unique and fascinating journey through the past five decades of music.
Closing with “Crushed Velvet Heart,” a nimble little folk song that uses its spry melody and subtle string arrangements to create an ethereal atmosphere of longing and half-remembered memories, he ends the record with something that doesn’t call attention to itself but allows its lyrical sorrow and penitent emotions to conjure entire worlds for us to investigate upon further listens. There’s something wonderfully understated about the way the album drifts off, letting the echoes of our own experiences guide the music to its end. But that’s what Crowder does best: allows us to inject ourselves into each track, giving the music a life and purpose beyond what he may initially have intended and further proving the elasticity and fluidity of his work.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.