Hardcore honky-tonk music from Oakland
Jill Rogers and Crying Time have been packing Bay Area clubs with their brand of hardcore honky-tonk music for a long time. The Oakland band’s blend of cover tunes, and the originals Rogers writes in the classic mode, are on display in their latest album, Many Worlds Theory. While they’re still playing songs that will have listeners kicking up their heels on the dance floor, the arrangements on Many Worlds dip into bluegrass, soul, pop and other genres, with an occasional waltz thrown in to sweeten the pot.
“[Songwriting legend] Harlan Howard once said that a good country song was three chords and the truth,” Rogers said. “My songs are more than three chords and some of the truth. When I write, there’s usually a nugget of a past experience, things that I haven’t quite digested, at the heart of the song.
“I start to think about things I did, how I felt when I did them and how I feel about it now. I allow those images to germinate and, slowly, it becomes its own story and not about me,” Rogers continued. “That’s why the album is called Many Worlds Theory. It’s a phrase from quantum mechanics that I’ve come across in science fiction. It’s the idea that before any decision is made, there’s a multiverse of paths available.
“I wouldn’t say the songs are autobiographical exactly,” said Rogers. “I would say that most of my songs are two truths and a lie. The truth is the starting point, then the songs explore possible outcomes.”
Crying Time has released four albums since their formation: Ten Golden Hits, Linda, Last Saturday Night and King George. With the exception of King George, an album dedicated to the music of George Jones, they all balance obscure cover tunes with Rogers’ impressive originals. Rogers said she enjoys the process of making an album, but doesn’t write on any particular timetable. “I’m not prolific,” she noted. “Songs start like a tickle in the back of my throat and then cough themselves up, fully formed, or I have to work hard and cajole them and craft them. They just come when they come.
“When we’ve accumulated enough originals and arrangements of songs we choose to cover, we go into the studio and make an album,” Rogers said. “Every song on this album has been played live, some more than others, and distilled down to the arrangements on the record. ‘Speedwell’ is the most recently written one. It got reconstructed in the studio, even though we’ve played it at gigs.”
The band recorded the basic tracks for Many Worlds Theory live, in a day and a half, at Guerrilla Recording, the studio owned by Myles Boisen, the band’s lead guitar player. “Once we had the songs down, it took about six months to add the finishing touches,” Rogers said. “We built on the parts laid down by [drummer] Tim [Rowe] and our bass player, Russ [Kiel]. We overdubbed Myles’ guitar solos, my vocals, the parts played by our violinist, Tony Marcus, and horns and backing vocals by various friends.
“After Myles did the basic mixes, we went back and forth on levels and editing. We’re both perfectionists in slightly different ways, but [the album] sounds just the way we both wanted it to. It’s not intended to feel like a live performance, but I hope what comes across is the same kind of joy that we experience when we play live. Even though they’re all sad songs, there’s joy in the music. When Tim, Myles and I started the band, the idea was to play the saddest songs we could find or write, but it turned into something joyful, musically, even on the saddest of songs,” she continued.
With the album set for release this Friday, the band is ready to start playing clubs again. “The thing I love about live shows is the energy exchanged between the audience and performers. It changes the experience of the songs and changes my experience of them. I might have some idea about how I think the song should go, but that’s only the blueprint. It becomes a living thing once the band gets hold of it,” said Rogers.
In addition to her duties as a music teacher and lead singer of Crying Time, Rogers performs with the Imperial Jazz Co., a free-form band with a rotating group of personnel. “There is an incredible wealth of great jazz players in the Bay Area,” Rogers said. “I put out an album under the Imperial Jazz imprint during the pandemic called Cloudy Day Sunny. It was a collection of standards from the Great American Songbook. We did a gig at The Ivy Room just as things were opening up again. Myles and Tony are both in various versions of the band.”
Many Worlds Theory will be released this Friday, April 7. It’s available on the band’s website, cryingtimeband.com, the usual digital outlets and their Bandcamp page
They will be playing at the Little Hill Lounge, 10753 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, on Saturday, April 8 at 8:30pm. (littlehillelcerrito.com)