“Telling Stories” is the title of the song that sets the tone for “If the Creek Don’t Rise,” Bill Deasy’s first new album in six years. But it could just as easily have been the title of a Deasy memoir. He’s been telling stories with a poet’s ear for language and a good detective’s eye for detail since his earliest days at the helm of the Gathering Field. And he’s only gotten better at drawing the listener into those stories with his warm, expressive vocals, exuding a vulnerability that suits the narrative, and melodies as haunting as the words themselves. Take the opening scene of that opening song. “There’s a suitcase in a hallway and the mourning dove is calling through the window/ where the sun is slowing risin’, making sense of the horizon through the rain/ Now, the case is being carried but the woman that he married, she ain’t nowhere/She ain’t nowhere she ain’t nothing/ She ain’t never gonna chase that boy again.” It’s the sort of story Jimmy Webb was telling on Glen Campbell’s most enduring records of the ’60s – a heartbreaking portrait of a single moment in a person’s life that doesn’t have to tell you how that moment came to pass to let you know exactly how it feels. Two songs later, a sleeping bride beside him as he makes his way down Highway One, the driver wonders “What if I become your worst regret?” It’s a question that hangs in the air on the following track, “I Tried,” as he sings of promises and good intentions lost along the way, telling her “I hate myself but that don’t change a thing.” As brilliant as those early-album highlights are at channeling the sadness and self-loathing that so often comes with falling short of who we meant to be, it’s to his credit as a lyricist that he allows some hopefulness and what feels like it may be redemption to seep into the narrative without losing the plot. As he sings over the chorus of the album’s most cathartic track, “Although the best of us are thieves and scoundrels ensnared by living’s thorny brambles, we were born with better angels.” By the end of the bittersweet ballad that follows, which feels like the album’s emotional turning point, he sings, “I think I’m finally ready to open up my heart,” allowing for the album-closing “Rushing Water,” where he finds serenity and grace in “All the questions that I never knew the answers to disappear before my eyes/What a sweet surprise.
Ed Masley – May 1, 2022