The Crooks have musical influences way beyond their teenage years. The band's early live performances and demo tapes drew comparisons to Led Zeppelin, instrumentally speaking. But with producer Matthew Smith behind the boards, the trio's debut album sounds more like Cream than anything else upon first listen. In fact, "Face Down Blues," which opens the disc, will most definitely make the initiated think of that classic combo. Whatever the case or the intention, though, the Crooks' primary goal seems to be to pay tribute to the riff-heavy blues-rock popularized by the mostly British power trios of that era.
Not that they stick totally or religiously to that model. "Earth Shakes," for instance, touches on psychedelia in both its vocals and vibe before concluding with a beautiful, pop-heavy, almost Beatlesque, instrumental coda. And Led Zeppelin does turn up in bits and pieces here and there, most notably on the dynamic instrumental break in the middle of "Black Cow" (any relation to "Black Dog"?). The almost 10-minute, totally instrumental "Queen Mother of the Western Skies" — now, there's a title! — may not approach the epic heights of something like, say, Led Zep's "Moby Dick." But after a beginning that sounds like it might not amount to much, it builds constant momentum to the point that it's virtually impossible not to be impressed.
The instrumental stuff is where the trio really shines, obviously. Jordan Kreb admirably proves himself to be one helluva guitarist throughout these eight tracks, while drummer Ben Van Camp and bassist Taylor Reynolds re-create the dynamism of classic rhythm teams of yore, including, but not limited to, Baker-Bruce and Bonham-Jones.
If the album has any flaw, beyond its typically Detroit lo-fi production qualities (although some of those early proto-metal, blues-rock discs, even Fresh Cream, had the same muffled quality long before Jack White made it a Detroit trademark), it's that the vocals don't always quite work, especially on the album's sole, mostly acoustic, ballad, "Love Is All the Question" (that's another cool title, though!). But the singing (and even the lo-fi elements) works just fine on stuff like the rocking "Gotta Get Away," which has a decidedly MC5-ish, circa Back in the USA, quality to it … and which ends this very listenable debut disc with a decidedly Detroit vibe as well.
The Crooks' local record release parties are Friday, Jan. 29, at the Factory (all-ages show), 334 S. Main St., Rochester; 586-909-2887; and Saturday, Jan. 30 at Cadieux Café, 4300 Cadieux Ave., Detroit; 313-882-8560. Detroit show is with the Cetan Clawson Revolution and the HandGrenades.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].