Album Review: Sarah Cram & The Derelicts: Little Secrets

Most folks who bother to go out to hear live music in Eastern Iowa know that Sarah Cram has that voice–a dark, smooth alto with a jazzy vibrato at the end of sustained notes. As good as The Diplomats of Solid Sound are when they roll stag, with Sarah and her sister Diplomettes, they’re a whole other thing–elegant, sexy, and even funkier.

Ms. Cram has been writing and singing on her own for years as well, and I’ve always enjoyed her solo performances, but on Little Secrets her song writing has been pushed in a new direction. Maybe Doug Roberson’s retro tendencies have rubbed off on her, as there’s more than a hint of rockabilly and surf music added into the mix. On the uptempo songs like “No No No” and “In My Dreams,” Cram’s confident singing projects a tough girl persona. “How Many Girls” adds Katie Burnes on cello, giving the song a cinematic feel, and her singing is dramatic, particularly when she hits the chorus at the top of her lungs.

There are echoes in Sarah’s singing and writing of rock divas like Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith, but she borrows their fearless attitude more than their style. There’s a lot about this CD that’s pure classic rock, which would normally turn me off, but Little Secrets is in the tradition without rehashing all the cliché gestures. It’s got the vibe of a Tarantino film–not so much nostalgia as imagining a past that’s a lot cooler than reality ever was. Sarah & her Derelicts totally kick ass, and they don’t need samurai swords to do it.