Dirk Kroll has an impressive collection.
The Pontiac blues rock singer-songwriter doesn’t collect coins, cards or clippings. Instead, he gathers an array of life experiences, stories and moments and shapes them into earnest sonic tales about everyday opportunities and challenges.
“I’m truly interested in life and people. If I were an alien, or from some other time period and I landed here, I’d soak it up more than it just passing me by,” Kroll said. “That’s what I do, and it’s in everybody, the stories I hear, the people I talk to, and their slant on the way they think, the flavor of the moment and everything.”
Kroll’s wife and bandmate, Marci Feldman, laughed and agreed. “The thing about Dirk is he’s a talker. We’ll go into Trader Joe’s, and he knows the names of anybody who works anywhere. Being a painter and restorer, people consider him harmless, so they disclose stories to him.”
Kroll constantly grows his collection through conversations and interactions with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and characters. Those exchanges lay the foundation for past, present and future songs shared through vivid recordings and live performances with current Dirk Kroll Band members Rodney Walker (guitar), Joe Gaglio (drums), Gardell Floyd (bass), Jim Amann (keys), Robert Reeves (horns) and Feldman (vocals).
“I collect stories, moments and ideas. Lyrically, it’s an opposite reflex because when I really go hard after something, it doesn’t seem to work out right. The stuff that comes to me, that’s a mystery to me, too,” said Kroll, who moved from southern California to metro Detroit at a young age and honed an eclectic sound influenced by Motown and the British Invasion.
‘This Broken Play’
Kroll beautifully unravels an assortment of vivid stories across a multitude of genres on his latest album, “This Broken Play,” which dropped in late 2018. The album includes 10 striking tracks revolving around personal struggles, relationships, lifelong journeys and societal responses intertwined with hints of blues, rock, funk, ska, jazz and folk. Listeners will immediately think it’s the best of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Rolling Stones and Wilco rolled into one.
The album’s exquisite title track features a solemn cello mixed with banging piano chords to reflect the sadness and frustration of a passionate relationship that’s abruptly ended – “All of our lives, and all that remains/All of our moments, and all that’s the same/You cast your part in this broken play/Is it always love, forever, the price we must pay.”
Detroit R&B singer-songwriter Tosha Owens lends her soulful vocals to this haunting track as well as cello from Jason Charboneau, piano from Kurt Schreitmeuller, bass from Tony Suhy, keys from Dave Roof and additional vocals from Rachel “Raye” Williams. Kroll penned the track after a novella he published in a magazine.
“It was a story about a young gal who came out with her first recordings, and it got nationwide huge, and she got all these accolades. Now, three or four years later, it’s drugs and alcohol. Her one guy that loves her says, ‘I can’t stop you from hurting yourself, and I’m not going to stick around and watch for the end,’” said Kroll, who’s heavily inspired by literature, film, politics and art.
“She comes home in the morning and just about crawls to the door. She’s got a ‘Dear John’ letter on the piano from the guy who meant the most to her in her life. I don’t write self-explanatory songs, but when you do hear it again, you’ll hear the words, and you’ll have a totally different perspective.”
‘Shooter’ and ‘The Road’
Meanwhile, Kroll tackles escalating gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S. with “Shooter,” a captivating track filled with a lush chorus of “ahs,” pounding drums, deep-tone guitars and vibrant piano – “Well, it started when I was young/And I never listened to anyone/And nothing seemed too real, but I can get a gun/Well, bang, bang, and you’re all dead/Then a bullet in my head/And all the tears go by/I didn’t listen to a word they said.”
He teamed up with Jeff Adams (guitar), Tim Hershberger (bass, vocals), George Canterbury (keys) and Price (drums) to add beautiful instrumentation to such a timeless, thought-provoking track.
“That’s a psychology of crazy. I’m not patronizing, I’m not being condescending or anything that’s in the mind of a crazy person who’s so detached from everybody around them. The very last verse, and it’s only just a play, and it goes on and on and on,” Kroll said. “Unfortunately, it stays current. It originated with Columbine, but it just keeps applying. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play that since it’s so dark.”
Kroll’s collection of musical experiences segues to “The Road,” a bluesy rocker filled with hard lessons, unexpected twists and turns, and unforeseen circumstances – “It takes a mission/ To get what you need/Out on the road, you know/You learn to bleed/There are no exceptions, there ain’t no reprieve/No one might know you, until you leave.”
A blues rock symphony of electric guitars, thumping bass and drums, piano and sax prove there are no “voodoo remedies” along this winding path.
“The Road” also allows Kroll to join forces with Williams (vocals), Adams (guitar), Price (drums), Reeves (horns) and Canterbury (keys) as well as Ralph Koziarksi and Sam Adragna to round out additional horns. Williams recently shared her powerhouse vocals with Owens during a special live performance of “The Road” at Pontiac’s Little Art Theatre, aka “The PLAT.”
New Material and Live Shows
Since releasing “This Broken Play,” Kroll continues to write, record and perform new tracks, including “West Thalia,” a hypnotic ballad based on “Last Picture Show” author Larry McMurtry, “Angry Girl” as a catchy tribute to Feldman, and “Early Dawn,” a jazzy, bluesy ode to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
“I write dark and hopefully not dreary. What’s in everybody’s mind is the way the melody works with the words, and I think a lot of my melodies work. There’s not too much of a dichotomy when you’re hearing the music, then you hear the words, and it’s emotionally going to take you there,” said Kroll about his profound songwriting.
Metro Detroit audiences will hear new tracks and selections from “This Broken Play” and its powerful 2015 six-song predecessor “Living Inside” as Kroll and his band perform a growing roster of live shows. They will perform Saturday at Howe’s Bayou as part of the Ferndale Blues & Music Festival and Jan. 31 at Edo Ramen in Royal Oak.
“I’ve got new stuff waiting because I’ve got to integrate everybody,” Kroll said with a chuckle. “I’m always writing, and I have no expectations, which makes it easy.”
8 p.m. Saturday | Ferndale Blues & Music Festival
Howe’s Bayou, 22848 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale