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 
     My precious wasted time 
     My damaged possessions 
     At least they are mine.
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. 
  
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 
    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 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."  

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 of emotion. 
 
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