Rodney DeCroo finds real beauty in tales of sadness on Allegheny
Once you’ve heard the flat-out devastating The Allegheny, it somehow seems wrong to label Rodney DeCroo as a songwriter. For much of the past decade, the 45-year-old has been seen as exactly that, his raw, often breathtaking records falling under the mean-nothing umbrella of Americana.
With Allegheny, DeCroo serves notice that “poet” might be a more fitting description. The album’s seven tracks find him setting spoken-word recollections of his childhood in Pennsylvania to the dark-cloud soundscapes of producer Robert Malowany. DeCroo’s great skill is being able to see beauty where others might see profound sadness.
You want gut-wrenching? That would be the album’s first track, “On the Night of My First Breath”, which starts with ghost-transmission cymbal crashes, and then gives way to DeCroo relating the following: “On the night of my first breath in a delivery room in Allegheny County General Hospital, my birth father, whom I will never meet, is asleep on a bus disappearing into the Midwest. His name is Frank Houser.” To get into what comes next is to ruin the sad magic of the story. And, yes, magic—at times depressing, at times (against long odds) impossibly joyful—is what DeCroo spins, both in “On the Night of My First Breath” and on the tracks that follow.
Consider “Behind the Gasworks on Railroad Avenue//An Odd Gift”, which is centred on a couple of small, dirt-streaked boys and two found pieces of pig iron, “black as crow feathers”, that will act as a healing touchstone for them later in life. Or “The Oil Drum”, where, over hardscrabble drums and menacing guitar, DeCroo sheds some light on a messed-up childhood with “My brother Chris asks if I like the taste of beer. ‘Fucking right I do.’ But the truth is, I hate it. Doesn’t matter though, because I’ve already begun at 13 to need it.”
Raw, captivating, and essential, Allegheny rebrands DeCroo as an artist determined to challenge himself and his fans. In doing so, he’s produced what will be remembered as one of the best, most unflinchingly honest records of the year. If the singer, poet, or whatever you want to call him somehow isn’t on your radar yet, this is where you really need to ask yourself why.