Having enjoyed the country-tinged style of Crowfield's 2008 debut, Good Bye, Good Night, So Long Midwestern, I was taken aback by the straightforward pop-rock stylings on the Charleston quintet's new self-titled studio album.
Beyond the similar lyrical topics and straightforward melodies, it almost sounded like a different band. Which, of course, it is.
Since Good Bye, Good Night, So Long Midwestern, which frontman Tyler Mechem and pianist Joe Giant recorded with studio musicians, Crowfield became a fully formed five-piece band with the addition of lead guitarist Micah Nichols, bassist Ethan Ricks, and drummer Parker Gins. Their new album abandons any semblance of country music — or even alt-country. It reminds me more of the mid-'90s alternative rock scene, when bands like Third Eye Blind were topping the charts.
Mechem's lyrics are even more personal and emotional than on the first album, with nearly every song detailing a resilient spirit fighting through some kind of heartbreak. Lines like this: "I lost my heart/I lost my place/Some how, some way," are often followed by lines like this: "It's getting better now.../I've broken down like this before/We all need somebody there to hear they care," from the second track "Some How, Some Way."
The nicely placed piano anchors the sound, the drums drive it, and the guitar stretches it, but there are hardly any solos to showcase the musicianship or to slow down the onslaught of words; it's all there to reinforce the message.
But that can get repetitive. And it does. Without much variation in style or tone, the songs bleed together in a vocally emotional but not musically expressive way. With so much focus on the lyrics, many of the early songs might hold more power with spare, acoustic backing.
However, two tracks on the second half of the album break the monotony with more varied rhythms. "Give It to You," whose slow, bluesy stomp opens out into a full-fledged rocker, meshes well with Mechem's sexually charged growling: "I ain't ever been in no mess like this/But I ain't ever kissed such beautiful lips/I can give it to you/I'm gonna tell you about the things I wanna do."
It's nice to hear Mechem sing about something he wants to do, as opposed to a problem he's struggling to make it through.
And they saved their best for the last track of the album, "Bigfoot," which Mechem delivers with more vocal range than other songs, careening his voice off a cliff before finishing the chorus with a fantastic falsetto.
While this album wasn't what I expected, in the end, it really was made by a different band. (myspace.com/crowfieldmusic)