It’s not easy keeping up with Pete Krebs. Prior to catching his daytime show at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival a few years back, I was warned he had moved into a more bluegrass direction. But by this point, he had already moved on from that music (which was released under the “Golden Delicious” moniker), in favor of a more rock/folk direction. And I couldn’t have been happier that grey morning. After three years, during which Krebs spent nearly eighteen months in Amsterdam and released an album of gypsy-jazz related fare, the singer-songwriter has returned to more mainstream waters.
I Know It By Heart is Krebs’ second release with Gossamer Wings, his backup group of ever-revolving musicians. On this release, he is joined by John Moen and Mike Clarke (the Jicks), and Jimmy “Talent” Talstra (No. 2). Any question of what style of music this album was going to be disappears right off the top as Krebs’ early Kinks guitar riff kicks off “Sleeping Beauty”, a rollicking, shuffling roots-rock rave up, complete with sing-along chorus. The upbeat feeling continues into “Distant Lights of Home”, though the lyrical content, of loss and longing, begins a thread that weaves its way through the rest of the record. With his everyman voice and plaintive tone, the singer never seems to be so much wallowing in the emotion of the moment; it’s more like he is giving an on-the-scene report of his feelings. He is in touch with his thoughts and emotions while maintaining a detachment at the same time.
Krebs wears his influences on his sleeve on more than few of the songs on I Know It By Heart. On “Lonely Street”, Krebs opens and closes the song with “London’s Calling”‘s main riff, while recalling the simplicity of early ’80s new wave. Then on the very next track, “Smashed to Splinters”, Krebs captures the spirit of ’60s pop, from the simple drum beat and clean, jangly guitar to the ‘ooh-ahh’ background vocals. The abrupt fade-out at the end of the song even brings to mind the style of how they used to end 45-RPM singles of the era.
And just when the album seems to be settling into it’s pop-rock-folk ways, after eight songs Krebs takes us into unknown territory. “Kid Domino”, featuring Portland singer Michael Jodell on lead vocals, could have easily found a place on the first Portishead or Morcheeba records. Though this doesn’t sound at all probable, the song, with its trip-hop beats and smooth vocals, fits in nicely between the more straightforward cuts it is nestled between. If Krebs has been a hard person to figure out until now, the inclusion of “Kid Domino” shows his adaptability, and that the division between different genres of music sometimes isn’t is as deep one might think.
There is no question that Pete Krebs will continue down the disparate musical paths as he has done thus far, trading one type of musical experience for another along the way. He continues to divide his time between Europe and the Pacific Northwest, just as divides his attention to musical genres. Even in folk-rock, singer-songwriter mode, he still taps into various veins within, from the Kinks and the Hollies, to the Clash and Squeeze. And while at times he can seem like an Elliott Smith without the tortured soul, overall, the musician Pete Krebs most resembles the great Warren Zevon, a musical troubadour who is just as hard to classify and pin down, but very easy to admire for that fact alone.