A Bittersweet Homecoming for Kristy Kruger

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In a red dress with white polka dots, Kristy Kruger walked on stage at Uncle Calvin’s on Friday night looking like a spelling bee contestant from the late 1950s emerging from a time capsule, as if her favorite singer is Buddy Holly and her favorite drink is a root beer float. She’s a throwback to simpler times, and with her music, she goes back even farther than the ’50s, to the ’20s and ’30s, and to vaudeville and ragtime. Hearing Kristy Kruger sing is like hearing songs long locked away in your great grandmother’s attic.

Kruger started off the night with “I Fell in Love with a Man Who Said He Loved Me,” a new song, a simple waltz with a simple theme exemplified by the title. Like many of Kruger’s best numbers, it’s a sad song touched with wry humor. The audience chuckled at some lines, and Kruger smiled, but the pain was palatable. Before the song, she told of its origins, about a man who she thought was right till he turned out wrong. It’s a clichéd story, but Kruger tells it well and sings about it beautifully.

These days, it’s difficult to say exactly where Kristy Kruger is from. The Dallas Observer Music Award-winning singer-songwriter moved to Los Angeles a while back in order to pursue her musical dreams. But since the news of her brother’s death (Lt. Col. Eric Kruger was killed in Iraq in November), Kristy has been traveling across the country, playing tribute shows for her fallen brother in an attempt to find answers to difficult questions.

Her plan is to play a show in all 50 states. So far, she has made it to 10, and shows are booked for at least than many more throughout the summer and into the fall.

Throughout this night, Kruger talked about her brother, the grieving process and how the tribute concerts have restored her faith in people. She performed several songs from her last CD, Songs from a Dead Man’s Couch, the first of which was “Blackhole.” It’s a song about loss and regrets that gains new depth in the context of her memory of her brother. “Blackhole” is a song about falling into one, and Kruger delivered it with a knowing acquiescence.

Later in the evening, Kruger sang “The Night You Never Came to Meet Me,” another slow waltz, a piercing narrative concerning love gone astray. Full of desolate imagery, it’s one of Kruger’s best songs. It’s also the closest she comes to conventional folk. Otherwise, her songs echo ghosts from decades, if not centuries, before she was born. Kruger channels the feelings and sounds of Prohibition-era America, her voice processed through an antiquated microphone to make her sound like she’s one of the Andrew Sisters coming through an A.M. radio.

Toward the end of the evening, Kruger sang “Goodbye Brother,” a heartfelt expression of sadness that comes at the audience like a eulogy. “I see you in every sunrise,” Kruger sang as the song crescendoed into a chorus Bob Dylan would admire. Within the song, the singer finds a footing, a balance between pain and faith, between sadness and hope, a road to sanity.

Closing out the evening was another new song, “Johnny and June,” and Kruger performed this tribute to the love between Johnny Cash and June Carter as though it were the simplest thing in the world, speaking of unconditional love in a matter of fact way that made it ring decidedly true.

The encore was an untitled new song in which Kruger sings, “My heart just upped and bottomed out” as she hits the end of her emotional rope. She smiled as the applause filled the venue. “Did I play too long?” she asked, looking at the clock. Actually, she didn’t play long enough. --Darryl Smyers

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