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Joe Croker | All The Pretty Girls (Bagatelle Arts)
Croker is one of a breed of emerging songwriters based in Nashville but recording for independent record companies, straddling the line somewhere between troubadour country and singer songwriter folk. All The Pretty Girls, the first track, sets your hopes up. It's a breezy, literate piece of roots influenced pop, Croker sounding like a perkier Slaid Cleaves. The major problem with this record surfaces on the second track, a gently satirical take on fame, LA Dream. While there's nothing overtly wrong with it, the production and arrangements are just far too slick and the song itself builds on a humdrum progression that promises to blaze but never does. Croker has a pleasant, if slightly weak, voice which doesn't necessarily have to be a problem (cf. Doug Hoekstra's latest record) but the anodyne backing here renders it ineffectual, constantly straining against the mix. It's a shame because Croker has some good songs - the bluesy shuffle of A Better Excuse, for example, or Lost Linda, a swaggering piece of Springsteen influenced sultry rock - but the majority (Look At All The Lovers, Heal) sound like Bob Seger outtakes stuck forever in a soft rock strut. Only Home To Kansas City, the rootsiest track here, escapes the production stranglehold and emerges as a charming piece of alt.country whose lyrics bring to mind Springsteen's CBS demos. Despite bearing an uncanny similarity to Jakob Dylan on the back cover, Croker will need some more sympathetic production before he's seen in the same league.