SUE DECKER – Keeping Time (own label)

Keeping TimeFrom British Columbia, Decker’s been described as the love child of Ry Cooder and Lucinda Williams, from which you’ll gather her music embraces blues, soul and country with a healthy order of slide guitar. Joined by Nashville sessioneers Dave Jacques and Justin Armaral on bass and drums with producer Steve Dawson on guitars and pedal steel, Keeping Time is her second album and opens in drawled country style with the uptempo ‘The Lost Ones’, a reflection on those reduced to living on the streets and the way we instinctively respond (“When I head down that way, my body stands on guard/Drugs, danger, and distress, how’d it get this far?/Fear wins the battle in my heart/I keep passing by the lost ones/Feeling powerless to help someone with a loaded gun”), pointing out that, in terms of compassion, we are just as lost.

With a slide intro reminiscent of ‘Spirit In The Sky’ before blossoming into a funky blues riff and slow swagger rhythm, ‘Hummingbird’ is her getting through the pandemic number, written after seeing a bird build her nest and raise her chicks outside her windows (“You lifted me out of that bitter lockdown”). In contrast, the steady rhythm ‘Pretty Words And Flowers, with a surprisingly growly guitar, is an earlier song dating back to her experience of downsizing in 2014 after a divorce, going through the boxes of keepsakes from the wedding and being surprised at the good memories that surfaced or, as she puts it, “pretty words and flowers don’t always fade away”.

The slow sway country blues ‘Nobody’s Mother’ is the most personal number, written for all those women whose maternal yearnings have never been fulfilled and who are “waiting in the back row, for the show to begin/Front row’s a family, mom and dad and 3 kids/It’s easy to see, they share flesh and blood/My body starts aching to know such love”. Turing up the pedal steel, that sense of emptiness also informs ‘Never Asked To Be So Strong’, harking back to her early days of starting to play and a guy she met in a dive-bar who, while broken and busted (“He’d forgotten what a friend was, used up all his trust/An old bar fly, a spectacle, waiting for dust-to-dust…He’d sworn off human touch, he didn’t plan to live this long/Getting up day after day, while his demons led him on”), gave her the encouragement she needed (“I know his name was Frank, and how he helped me shine”).

Decker on lap steel, ‘Cheatin’ Side Of Town’, a co-write with her late friend Brian Parsons, is a loping slide blues written about a serial philanderer (using the metaphor of a taxi cab) from a strong woman’s point of view (“You turned your light on for me babe/Opened the door and wouldn’t let me pay/Fooled me for a while, but it was just your game/I found out you got your light on for all kinds of women babe/Maybe there’s a woman who will take your guff It ain’t me, I’ve had enough”).

In contrast, it ends with a ‘Love Made for a Lifetime’, a gravelly-voiced, slow slide country number inspired by former neighbours and how their love and commitment for one another remained undiminished in the face of dementia (“Cause no matter what, she’s still his wife”) and the eventual having to let go (“Came the day she packed his bag, all for the best is what they said/Then a car pulled up and he wondered why they left the open door/There’s nothing in their sixty years to prepare her for all of this/Standing in their doorway explaining where he’s gonna go…The long goodbye from man to child”).

At under 30 minutes, Keeping Time feels a tad on the short side but it’s definitely a case of never mind the width, feel the quality.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘The Lost Ones’: