Crack of Dawn – Spotlight
Crack of Dawn’s new album Spotlight kicks off with outrageously infectious energy with the song “Crack of Dawn”. It initially promises something potentially meditative with its deliberate keyboard sheen introducing the track, but percolating drums soon enter the fray and the horn section vamps it up when the cut begins in earnest. Michael Dunston’s vocals are strong and have an exhortative quality to them wholly appropriate for this sort of uptempo crowd-pleaser. “Somebody’s Watching” is a much funkier number, not as resolutely R&B, and the rhythm section of bassist Charles Sinclair and drummer Carl Otway lay down a crackling groove. The chorus is especially effective.
The funk strands of the band’s sound emerge even more clearly with “Booby Ruby” and Dunston lets fly with an inspired, slightly lascivious vocal with great playfulness. The horns provide some added punch, but the heart of the song is naturally the interplay between Sinclair and Otway. They never fail to deliver the goods. The funk edge is tempered a little on “Keep the Faith” and Dunston’s vocals are ably joined by a chorus of higher register backing singers. This isn’t some sort of religious song, but more about surviving life’s rough winds with the knowledge that if you keep moving forward, keep believing there’s a reason to do, those winds will subside.
“It’s Alright” takes off with some staccato organ flourishes before the song begins in full. The organ takes a backing role, submerged in a mix putting the vocals and horns out front, but its color is important thread in the song’s sonic tapestry. “Seasons’ Change” has a much more soul ballad feel than anything we’ve heard so far and the relaxed clip of the song plays to another side of the band’s strengths. Dunston imbues the lyrics with real pathos and his bluesy phrasing gets under the listener’s skin early on, but it’s Carl Harvey’s lead guitar that proves to be the crowning touch on one of Spotlight’s best songs.
The title cut “Spotlight” is another instance of Crack of Dawn slowing things down, aiming for nuance rather than physicality, and excelling at creating memorable dramatics the way the greatest bands do. It’s another emotive performance for Dunston, arguably surpassing his great performance on the preceding song, and he’s a singer who keeps his voice close to the song rather than looking to seize the spotlight for himself. The sensual unwinding of “Your Love” comes about, largely, from its marriage of straight ahead steady drumming with sharp guitar fills and a constant yet light keyboard wash deepening every color in the song. The chorus perfectly fits the song’s mood and Dunston enjoys the benefit of some spot on backing vocals. Crack of Dawn’s Spotlight is an impressive studio return for the band and provides them with the basis for a first class live set. It proves, as well, that you can sometimes pick up an abandoned or neglected idea years later and run with it again wiser and more talented than ever before.