Living In Reverse/CRACKOLOGY – Crack The Sky
Well this is a first for me in the way that I am actually reviewing a couple of albums that have not hit the shelf yet sort of thing. I was recently approached by one of the scouts of the American band Crack The Sky (who must of dropped by on my blog site at some point) asking me if I would do a pre-release review of a couple of albums they have scheduled to be released next month on the 24th August.
Both albums will be released on the same day, and one of them will be their very latest album to date entitled Living In Reverse. The other entitled CRACKOLOGY is an album of brand new recordings of some of the bands favourites from their 40 year career that runs from 1975 – 2015.
I have to confess I have never heard of them before, but America is a very big place and I dare say where I live here in the UK there are a zillion artists and bands that have never crossed my path before so to speak. So this is quite a new experience for me listening to their music right now, and before I get on with my review of the both albums let’s take a look at a brief bit of history about the band.
Crack The Sky (History In Brief)
The band Crack the Sky were formed in Weirton, West Virginia in the early 70’s. Coming from Virginia may give one the impression that they were rounded up :)))) and their music may be something more along the lines of country, but they actually came with a tag of progressive rock (more about that later). The first incarnation of the band featured John Palumbo vocals & guitar. Rick Witkowski & Jim Griffiths guitar. Joe Macre bass and Joey D’Amico drums.
They released their self titled debut album Crack The Sky in 1975. The band got what was supposedly a lucky break having played some demos to a nephew of Terry Cashman of Cash West Productions who went on to form the record label Lifesong Records, and Crack The Sky was the first major artist to be signed to the label. But unfortunately for the band the album never got the right promotion and distribution, and never made much of a dent in the American Billboard albums charts.
However Lifesong Records was far from finished with the band and must of thought they had something to let them release a further 4 studio albums, plus 3 live albums and a compilation album. Over the years like many bands Crack The Sky have had various line-up changes and the bands main songwriter John Palumbo left the band after their 2nd album Animal Notes which was released in 1976.
However he soon returned in 1980 with a new band line-up and their 4th album White Music was released in the same year. Since then he has pretty much kept the band going, and today the band still have 3 of its 5 original band members that started it all off back in 1975 and are still very much active and a working band.
Over the years Crack The Sky have released 16 studio albums. Their last studio album The Beauty Of Nothing was released in 2015. The Rolling Stone magazine said that the bands debut album was one of the 50 greatest prog rock albums of all time, and one of the 20 rock albums Rolling Stone loved in the 1970’s that you never heard. This next picture shows a review written by Stephen Holden of the magazine from back in January 1976.
You will have to zoom in on your browser to most likely read Stephen Holden’s review here, but the same article can found in Gavin Edwards short review which was published in the same magazine on the 11th June 2015. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/20-rock-albums-rolling-stone-loved-in-the-1970s-that-you-never-heard-164876/crack-the-sky-crack-the-sky-58391/
As with many reviews they always tend to get hyped up to the hilt a bit. To be honest I can quite easily take any review from the Rolling Stone Magazine with a pinch of salt, and it’s full of that much hype I could not even be arsed with such a magazine. It really sucks at the best of times I am afraid, and I am not just saying that in a way that I can write reviews any better.
But the one thing I genuinely stick too is honesty when it comes to speaking about music, but of course my own reviews are based on how the music speaks to me and how it appeals to my own personal taste. Many others will no doubt have different opinions.
The one thing I can tell you straight away is that Crack The Sky’s music is quite far removed away from progressive rock. Especially genuine prog rock that came from the late 60’s and early 70”s. The Americans might have a milder view on what progressive rock really is, and even the articles in these reviews by Rolling Stone are exaggerated and even criticise them self. One minute they mention the band being prog rock, then in the next they say they are rock and even play blues guitar. A magazine like this would even say the Partridge Family were prog rock for god’s sake :)))))).
Progressive rock is derived from mainly combining and fusing music from the genres of classical, jazz, folk, and rock music and can use many different time signatures to make it much more unique and sound something completely different to the norm. What we have with the band Crack The Sky is a basic form of rock and rock n roll music and nothing more I am afraid.
So for those out there that think Crack The Sky are a progressive rock band. You seriously need to get your head checked because this band are more like the likes of bands like Nazareth and early Rush when they started out as a rock band, and nothing like early Yes. Genesis and King Crimson for example. Or even the American prog rock band Happy The Man for that matter. If you want to hear what American prog rock sounds like these days, go out and buy a Neal Morse album.
But however you define Crack The Sky’s music, the one thing I will say is these guys can play and are a very good live band from what I have seen of them on Youtube. But the bands Logo is perhaps more progressive :))))) and I quite like that indeed. But to be fair to the guys there is also an element of prog rock in some of their songs, and there is more progression to it than just the Logo too.
The Band Today…
Today’s line-up of the band like I mentioned earlier consists of the 3 of the bands original members from all those decades ago. They are John Palumbo – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keys. Rick Witkowski – Guitars & Vocals and Joey D’Amico – Drums & Vocals. Making up the rest of the band we have Bobby Hird – Guitars & Vocals. Glenn Workman – Keyboards & Vocals and Dave DeMarco – Bass & Vocals.
The guys have weathered very well over the years I must say and judging by the bands website here: http://www.crackthesky.com/ they are also keeping themselves very busy with all the live shows they are booked up to play. I best try and keep in their good books as well with my review of the albums which is coming up next, because there is a couple of guys in this outfit I would not want to mess with, and they may just come over here and duff me up :))))))).
The Albums In Review…
Because I have a couple of albums to get through here, I am not going to be going into great detail by taking onboard every individual track from the albums, and merely present you with the highlights of both albums. The main album is the bands latest studio album Living In Reverse that is due to be released next month. This album will be released on CD and also in the form of a Digital Download. CRACKOLOGY on the other hand will be released in the form of a Digital Download only, and this is the album I will take on first in my review here.
Crack The Sky’s new compilation album CRACKOLOGY will be officially released on the 24th August 2018. The album is not just a compilation in the way that it contains tracks from the bands back catalogue of their discography and placed onto an album. All the songs have been newly re-recorded with the present line-up of the band.
The album itself consists of 12 tracks and has an overall playing time of 73 minutes and 53 seconds. That’s a double albums worth of material you are getting with this release, and there is also a way you can get the entire album free too. I will tell you more about that later on at the end of my review of both albums.
The material the band decided to re-record mainly focuses on the bands 1975 debut album. It also includes newly recorded versions from some of the tracks from the bands 3rd, 4th & 8th albums, plus a couple of tracks have also been re-recorded from their last album released in 2015.
My guessing is that the band have decided to redo their most popular songs, or personal favourites being that there is a lot of albums the band have decided not go nowhere near. I did also notice a lot of these tracks did appear on their live albums and compilation albums over the years with my research too.
Off The Cuff…
Like I said at the beginning I know nothing about the band Crack The Sky and I have to confess upon hearing this album for the first couple of times it was not speaking a lot to me at all, and to be perfectly honest I was at some stage thinking of emailing the person back and telling them I could not do the review, simply because I could not really do the band any justice by doing such a thing.
You must remember the reviews I do on my blog site here are basically of the albums I buy in the first place and are not what people send to me to review. I have had people in past email asking me if I would review their albums, to which I have turned down. This is basically because having heard their music first, I know I could not give it what the person was expecting to get from a review.
It all boils down to personal taste at the end of the day, and I am not for one minute suggesting that their music is rubbish in any way what so ever. I am sure it will appeal to many more people than myself on that score. We are all individuals at the end of the day and we simply cannot like everything, and I am not the type of person that is gonna tell you I like something when I don’t. So if you are looking for hype, try the Rolling Stone magazine LOL..
Honesty is my policy with my reviews and honesty is even in my Christian name Lee. Honest-Lee :))))))).
OK less of the wise cracks and I can tell you honestly that when I first received the email to do this review, I did not do a lot of research on the band before I got back to them and told them I would do it. The two things that made me want to take on the review in the first place was. 1. They was a mainstream band. 2. I was impressed with what little I had seen of them playing live on Youtube.
To be honest I would also jump at the chance if any of the artists in my own personal record collection was to send me their new album to review before it gets released, and I think most reviewers would as well.
Writing a review of any album takes up a lot of time, especially with some of the research I do, and for me it’s an hobby I enjoy doing, even down to listening to an album at least 7 times over before I even begin to write a review, and before I lose complete track of my review of CRACKOLOGY let’s get back to it. It was after giving the album more spins I can tell you that it did start to speak to me a lot more.
Back On Track…
The album kicks off with the first two tracks from their debut album “Hold On / Surf City” that they have put together as one track with their new version of it. I even located the original album on Youtube to make a bit of comparison to see what the band have done with this new version. The original two tracks on the album also ran into each other, only here you get at least a 2.5 minute extension of them.
To be honest considering the original tracks were done some 43 years ago I was quite surprised how well the band have still managed to handle the vocal side of things here. I find the lyrical side of things can be a bit quirky, funny and may even lean towards racism especially on “Surf City“. The bands 4th album was even called White Music and I get the impression that the bands main songwriter John Palumbo was one of those who voted for Donald Trump :)))))))).
Musically there is no doubt the band have beefed things up a bit in comparison to the original version, and they have even incorporated the bass line from “Spirit Of Radio” by Rush into the end of “Surf City“. Though even by doing that, it does not make the music we have here prog rock what so ever, and this is more of a funky approach to rock music and “Surf City” reminds me a lot of the band Nazareth.
Here is the band playing the both songs live back in 2008 and I noticed they even incorporated that Rush bass line into it back then too. No doubt the band do justice to their songs live and are a great live act.
The band then roll out a further 3 tracks from their 1975 debut album and next up we have “She’s A Dancer” and the funky side of things continues here. There is no doubt I get a Nazareth vibe from almost every song these guys do, and it’s most likely down to the nasally thing that both bands have with the vocal side of things.
This is a song that also has quite a catchy hook to it with how it first swings into action, and when they sing “When I look into her eyes” in the chorus section it sort of reminds of the melody line to “The Day I Met Marie” which Hank Marvin wrote for Cliff Richard way back in 1967. Of course it’s not that song, or even has the slower tempo with how Cliff sang it, but for some reason it has me singing the opening words from that song “Imagine a cold summers day”.
I also like how this particular song changes to end it all off with the horn section doing something more along the funky lines of The Average White Band. It’s still not prog rock by any means but has great progression and diversity and I quite like this one. Having gave the original version a blast to make a comparison with this version, I think the band did more less the same thing on this new version. However I do not think they quite captured the horn section as well like the original and I prefer the original.
There is no doubt that the bands debut album must mean a lot to them and their fans, and both “Ice” and “Robots for Ronnie” they decided to redo, are up next. The first of the 2 is some 5 minutes longer than the original track from the album. Although this was not that unusual for the band to do and they could stretch this one out to 12 minutes and more at their live shows from what I gathered from my research.
The band are also heading along the lines of prog rock with this newer stretched out version of the song, but Crack The Sky are no more prog rock than bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath or even Nazareth for that matter. But no matter if it’s prog rock, rock, pop or any other any genre for that matter, what matters most is the art of composition, and if something is genuinely well written it will speak to me. Even though the original version of “Ice” is pretty much OK. I do feel this version is much better and the band have done an excellent job of it here.
“Robots for Ronnie” is another very well written song and I very much like the subject matter and the lyrical content within the song. There is also a funny whimsical side or even weird approach to them, though they also have a serious parenting side look of things. Especially in this day and age with bullying and all that. Musically and even lyrically its perhaps something along the lines of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Next up the band redo 3 songs from their 3rd album Safety in Numbers which was released back in 1978. Oddly enough the bands main songwriter John Palumbo had left the band at this stage and never appeared on the album. However the band did use 2 of his songs he wrote plus another track he co-wrote with some of the other members of the band back then.
The songs they chose to revitalise from the album are “Nuclear Apathy“. “Long Nights” and “Lighten Up McGraw“. The latter of the 3 is the only song on this whole album that was not written by John Palumbo and was credited to Rob Stevens, Rick Witkowski and Joe Macre. The fact that Palumbo was not on the original recordings means that you are most likely to get a bit of a different vibe from these newer versions.
“Nuclear Apathy” is the longest of the 3 and this is another fine song that contains some great diversity and progression along it’s path. There is also something quirky going on with the timing of the drums when they come into play during the acoustic opening of the song. Whoever is singing during this intro has a great voice and is quite different to the vocals on the original which is more of a double tracked harmony vocal. The band do not fall back into the acoustic intro on this newer version either and cut it short by half a minute, but it’s another really great song and I like both versions to be honest.
Having listened to the original version of “Lighten Up McGraw” I get more of a Status Quo vibe from it, particularly with how the band sing it. With this new version I certainly get more of a Nazareth vibe from it. “Long Nights” is another well written song where it’s lyrical content takes in the subject matter of a man losing his wife and being left on his own alone, and his son feeling his pain and wishing he could end it all for him, so he could be up there in heaven with his wife.
Both its vocal line and the structure of the music with its melody lines have quite a few familiarities about it with several other songs I have heard over the years. Both this and the original version are great, and this version uses the acoustic piano rather than an electric one.
John Palumbo made his return to the band in 1980 and both these next two songs the band have decided to re-record was originally on the bands 4th album White Music which was released in the same year. The first of them “Skin Deep” sees the band returning to the more funked up vibe they had with the first couple of tracks from their debut album. “Hot Razors in My Heart” is more of a rock ballad with weird lyrics :)))))). Both songs are OK but perhaps a bit more on the mediocre side of things. They do not really light my fire but I am sure others will see a lot more in them than myself on that score.
Next up we have the self titled album track which was originally from their 1989 album From The Greenhouse. I quite like this one and once again it’s more like a rock ballad but it flows very well and says a lot more to myself. There is some nice acoustic guitar and it has a very tasty electric guitar solo thrown in to boot too.
The final 2 songs they chose to redo here are from the bands 2015 album The Beauty Of Nothing. The band rock out “Rachel” well enough and the album gets put to bed with the self titled album track “The Beauty Of Nothing” which is accompanied with some fine strings too, and it ends off with a very long guitar section that is a bit reminiscent along the lines to Neil Young’s “Hurricane“.
Overall CRACKOLOGY is an album that does not represent quite an anthology of the bands output over the past 40 years, and there is quite a lot of albums they never considered redoing material from. I guess they wanted to showcase some of the bands best songs and those that appeal more to their audience. I think it’s certainly an album that will appeal to the bands fans and more besides I feel.
Having listened to the bands debut album as well I myself would of liked them to have done “A Sea Epic” and I certainly felt that was one of the strongest songs on that album. There is no doubt that even though the band Crack The Sky may very well be American. I personally feel that they latched on to some of the rock bands that we had here in UK back in the 70’s and they do remind me of the Scottish band Nazareth to some extent.
My personal highlights from the album are “Nuclear Apathy“. “Ice” “Robots for Ronnie“. “She’s A Dancer“. “Long Nights” and “From The Greenhouse“.
The album tracks are as follows: 1. Hold On / Surf City. 9:34. 2. She’s A Dancer. 4:29. 3. Ice. 9:40. 4. Robots For Ronnie. 5:16. 5. Nuclear Apathy. 8:01. 6. Lighten Up McGraw. 5:10. 7. Long Nights. 3:56. 8. Skin Deep. 4:23. 9. Hot Razors. 5:57. 10. From The Greenhouse. 6:05. 11. Rachel. 4:53. 12. The Beauty Of Nothing. 6:29.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.
The bands latest album Living In Reverse that is scheduled to be released next month on the 24th August is another album that contains 12 tracks to which are spanned over a playing time 50 minutes, 13 seconds. The album will be released on their new record label they have just signed up too Loud & Proud Records. Maybe there is a Nazareth connection after all :))))))))). I have to confess I quite like the artwork for Crack The Sky’s new album and it was painted by the bands main songwriter John Paulumbo and it looks a damn site better than the artwork that Nazareth got back in 1973. There is also no doubt that Crack The Sky are trying their hand at a completely new modern approach with the new material they have written for this new album, and have left whatever traces they may of had of Nazareth or any other band they sounded like, including themselves to some extent way behind.
From the moment the album kicks off with the opening song “Talk Talk” you are going to instantly notice quite a change from anything this band has ever done before in the past. The band say they are new genre defying crack tracks and they are not wrong either. There is no doubt this album is showcasing a new approach to the bands music and giving it a more modern and popular music twist. Yet it still has the energy and raw power to rock as well. I have no idea who done the production, but my guess is that whoever produced this album they had never worked with them before. If they did I am quite amazed.
Off The Cuff…
I have to confess over the many decades I have been listening to music I was never one really for change. Most artists and bands tend to change their style now and then to try and keep things more fresh and try something different. Some even change their style to try and stay in the limelight with what’s popular in the charts, and some completely change from one genre of music to another.
The band Genesis are a perfect example of doing just that. There is also no doubt that Genesis achieved far more success by doing such a thing as well. But I myself despised them for doing such a thing. For any artist or band to make changes to their music I quite often find that at least 90 percent of the time it will put me off them completely. Basically this is down to them not saying the same thing that I brought their music for in the first place, and their music no longer speaks to me like it used too.
Crack The Sky are not the first band to try and incorporate more modern elements of pop music into their own music. More recently I seen some of these modern elements appear on Magenta’s new album We Are Legend. Also with Frost*’s album Falling Satellites that got released last year, and I have to say these type of modern elements do not impress me one bit. If they did I would be buying all the crap that I hear in today’s pop charts, and that is something that will never happen I am afraid. Thankfully both of those neo prog rock bands never went completely over the top :))))))).
So just what have these new modern elements done for a band like Crack The Sky. Well coming from somebody who as only recently heard some of their older material from their back catalogue, there is no doubt they come across like many other great rock bands, and no doubt just like many rock bands they have their own approach and style to their music and they have written some pretty good songs along the way too.
But I can also see in some respect why this band never really got quite the recognition that most of their fans seem to think they should of got. And basically it boils down to the fact that they are not doing that much different in relation to the millions of rock bands there are out there, and even though they are without doubt a great live act and I would even pay money to see them if they were to come over here. I personally do not think the written material is not consistent and steady enough for them to break out and make a real impact, to be able to reach a much wider audience.
The fact there are literally millions of artists and bands making music today, makes it a lot more harder for any band to make any impact today on a wider audience, and to do so in many cases you may just have to go down this more modern popular road to create a bit more of a stir.
Back On Track…
There is no doubt that Crack The Sky are trying to reach out to more people with the new changes they have made to their music and the particular modern edge they have put to it with how they present it to to you on their new album Living In Reverse that is due for release next month. To be perfectly honest the way the band have gone with this more modern approach I personally feel works 100% and this certainly appeals more to me than what both the bands Magenta and Frost* tried to do on their last albums with all the modern synth and reverse sounds that are more commonly associated with today’s modern popular chart music.
Quite a few of the songs on the album Living In Reverse do have more of a popular music approach with how they have gone about things here, and to be perfectly honest this is not the sort of thing that normally would appeal to myself. But this new albums speaks more to me than what they have done over the past 40 odd years, and this is certainly more of a solid album in relation to CRACKOLOGY and that supposed to be more like there greatest hits sort of thing.
Not everything on the bands new album is perhaps what I would call new genre defying crack tracks, but the way the tracks have been placed throughout the album and the production makes even the more familiar rock tracks blend in very well with it all, and even some of those type of tracks on the album have more of a raunchy sound and feel about them especially “Raining Rain“. “Red Rosary” and “I’m On The Radio, Mom“. Even the albums self titled track “Living In Reverse” could be seen like more of a modern day approach to the Beatles in some respects.
Whilst tracks like “Talk Talk” .”Big Dipper“. “Jacket“. “Bang“. “I’m A Good Man” and “Hit” certainly have been given this more modern day treatment and the latter of those 6 songs even has “Hit” potential I feel. There is no doubt the band are using reverse effects and all sorts here, yet there is still some raw power in quite a few of these new genre crack tracks as well. Some of them may even present the band a bit of problem bringing them to stage at their live shows.
My personal highlights from the album are “Raining Rain“. “Red Rosary“. “Living In Reverse“. “I’m On The Radio, Mom“. “Bang“. “I’m A Good Man” and “Hit“.
The album tracks are as follows: 1. Talk Talk. 4:47. 2. Living In Reverse. 3:56. 3. Raining Rain. 4:16. 4. Red Rosary. 3:56. 5. Hit. 4:13. 6. Big Dipper. 4:35. 7. I’m On The Radio, Mom. 4:00. 8. Jacket. 3:40. 9. I’m Alright Now. 4:20. 10. Bang. 4:10. 11. I’m A Good Man. 4:03. 12. Home Tonight. 4:17.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.
Two For The Price Of One.
Both of Crack The Sky’s new albums Living In Reverse and CRACKOLOGY can be had for the price of one from PledgeMusic here: https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/crackthesky simply by pre-ordering the bands 17th album Living In Reverse that will be officially released on the 24th August 2018. You can pre-order the bands latest album in the form of a digital download for $15 or on CD for $18 equivalent to £11 & £14 in the UK respectively. Either way you get CRACKOLOGY for free which is in the form of a digital download only.
PledgeMusic is a site that was set up to help musicians, and let’s face it most artists and bands need all the support they can get these days with how little music sells. It’s also aimed at the artists fanbase too and you can buy lots of other trinkets from there like you could from the bands official website. No doubt the album Living In Reverse will be sold at other outlets too, but to get your free digital download of CRACKOLOGY you can only do so by using the PledgeMusic website.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up and conclude my rather long pre-release review here of the both albums. I would very much say that the fact you can get them both for the price of one it’s well worth doing so. Both albums have something new for the bands fans and I would even think this offer was a must for their fans too, and they will get a real treat from taking advantage of this offer.
But even for those like myself who have only just came across Crack The Sky’s music or never even heard of anything by them before. I think both albums are great, especially the latest album Living In Reverse. I am quite hooked on the album and by this new approach the band have done here, and it really suits them as well I feel. I also feel that this particular album will appeal to many others too with its modern pop twist and overall edge the album presents you with. It really is a great piece of work and album.
I think the band are onto a winner with their latest album, and for those who purchase it, I also think they are very much onto a winner as well. As for myself you may think I am on a winner by getting the both albums via digital download free to make my review here. But I genuinely do support music, and when music is as good this, I will also buy it. I also love the physical product as well and have pre-ordered the CD. I shall also do a full review Living In Reverse when it arrives too.