Groping Toward Grace review of “Deep in the Waves”

J. Briozo - Deep in the Waves album cover

By Pamela Bellmore
Original Post: December 2017

“J.Briozo’s debut release, Deep in the Waves, is the first solo album from Swallows’ vocalist Jeff Crandall and glitters with an accessible and deceptively sophisticated sound quite unlike anything else you’ll hear in recent memory. It’s indicative of Crandall’s prodigious creativity that, in the midst of writing and recording a third studio release with Swallows, Crandall still found the time and creative energy to write and record an entire album concurrently with a distinctly different melodic and sonic signature than his work with Swallows. It’s doubly impressive that he pulls this off while still working with some of his band mates and demonstrates a substantive musical ventriloquism few of his contemporaries or peers readily share. Deep in the Waves is an immensely rewarding and gratifying musical experience capable of resonating with listeners far after the final songs has ended.

“The lyrical mood dominating Deep in the Waves is poetic without ever risking pretension and remains accessible throughout. One of the best efforts in this regard and a truly distinguished opener, ‘Blind’ is largely pushed forward by tasteful keyboard work and drumming while the guitar work takes on a compositional role. Crandall’s phrasing further enhances his already fine lyrics. The guitar takes on much more of a front and center role with the second song ‘Deep in the Waves’ and the title song sets a tone that sustains much of the album – singer/songwriter themed work built around artful vocals and acoustic guitar. There are some exceptions to this formula, however, scattered throughout the release. ‘Spinning Out’, ‘Las Cruces’, and the album’s final track ‘Sun Sun True’ employ guitar heroics to spectacular ends with a warm, deeply emotive sound and lead flourishes that are never thrown into the mix just for the sake of giving the guitarist a moment in the spotlight. The first and last song of the aforementioned trio are the best efforts in this vein; ‘Spinning Out’ is memorable for its muscular yet appealingly ragged six string explosiveness while ‘Sun Sun True’ has a kind of wide open, even joyful jamming quality quite unique among the album’s thirteen tunes.

“‘Rain Song’ is another key track illustrating the album’s diversity thanks to the inclusion of strings, but the added instrumentation never imposes itself on the arrangement. ‘Catalonia’, on the other hand, mixes Crandall’s folky inclinations with his rockier edge to great effect and even has a cinematic touch that’s lacking in the other tunes. ‘Camera Obscura’ is another fine example of his ever growing songwriting acumen and the seeming mystery surrounding the track, along with its restrained sense of melancholy, never prevents listeners from connecting with its sound and message. J.Briozo opens up a lot of new doors for Jeff Crandall and never pretends to be a substitute or improvement of some sort on his work with Swallows, but it certainly demands that the audience recognize we were just hearing a fraction of his potential until now. Let’s hope he continues to pursue further releases in this vein while continuing to help grow Swallows’ reputation and creative power.”