Houston Music

Deep Ella

With the loose, laid-back, bluesy feel that its name implies, local band Deep Ella succeeds by employing simple hooks and sweet, airy vocals that don't just speak of emotions but act as conduits for them. But they fail when they strive for too much diversity of sound, as on their latest album, Last Year's New Thing.

Lead singer Jeff Crowder is an amazing vocalist with a knack for simple, poetic lyrics that disappear once they're sung. And since Deep Ella's music is more about feeling than definitive meaning, this transience works, leaving the listener with nothing tangible, only a deep sense of sadness or hope. On "Bent Before an Angel," Crowder comes to terms with a lover leaving and the fear of going forward without her. The muted snare drum and slowly trailing guitar all add to the heartache of the song, and in between lines the band cuts out, leaving a lingering silence and the loneliness that goes with lost love.

On "What Was I to Do," a song about suicide, the vocals become angry and the guitar a little wilder. The grimier sound sticks out on the album, and not in a good way -- the sudden change of pace and subject matter kill the momentum.

Ella combines the faster guitar with the anguished vocals to better success on the title track. "Last Year's New Thing" sounds a bit like Jimmy Eat World; the song moves nicely and succeeds in rocking out a bit. Still, it doesn't connect like the slower, more contemplative songs.

"Afterall" is both the band's best song and the one most likely to make it to radio. It embodies all the qualities that make up Ella's best work: delicate music, moving vocals and a confident message buried beneath the uncertainty.

For their next trick, Deep Ella would do well to build what they do best rather than spreading out their sound. Breadth doesn't always trump depth.

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Ray Hafner