Crack of Dawn – Spotlight
Spotlight is Crack of Dawn’s studio return since returning revamped in 2013 and picking up where the vaunted Canadian based R&B/soul/funk outfit left off after a momentous run in the late Seventies. The ten song collection reminds devoted listeners of the band’s talents, fully evident since their 1976 debut, and advances the unit’s artistry into the 21st century with a knowing eye cast back to their past. The nine piece band still boasts one of the punchiest horn sections imaginable for popular music, but the guitars and rhythm section play with the brass in a kinetic, impactful way. Spotlight brings Crack of Dawn back to where they belong – playing live shows for appreciative audiences and carving out richly deserved streams of that aforementioned spotlight for themselves and their music.
“Crack of Dawn” is the album’s first song and gets things off to a rambunctious start. The horn section is more prominent here than it will be in some of the later songs, and rounds out the band’s sound without ever competing with the other instruments for space in the mix. Crack of Dawn may be working on the indie scene, but there’s nothing about Spotlight’s production that screams indie. “Crack of Dawn” is the first of many excellent illustrations of that you’ll hear on the album and the cohesiveness of the presentation makes these songs more satisfying than they might have turned out in lesser hands. “Booby Ruby” goes in the other direction with an outright funker highlighting the band’s outstanding rhythm section of bassist Charles Sinclair and drummer Carl Otway. Lead singer Michael Dunston burns throughout this song with an intensely physical presence without ever overplaying the song’s subject matter.
Some nice organ vamping opens “It’s Alright” before settling into another part of the album where Crack of Dawn play more to the R&B and soul elements in their sound rather than the funk. Make no mistake, however, there’s nothing tiresome or turgid in comparison between these two styles. Crack of Dawn show consistent musical chemistry throughout the course of Spotlight and the instrumental interplay between Dunston and the musicians, Sinclair and Otway, and lead guitarist Carl Harvey’s work with rhythm player Rupert Harvey is more than satisfying, A stronger blues influence comes from Dunston’s singing on this track and “Seasons’ Change” than we hear with the earlier numbers, as well, and the shift in musical priorities shows us how their range allows them a lot of flexibility for fans and live audiences.
The title cut “Spotlight” is a much more pensive effort than we’ve heard so far on the album and Dunston’s dramatic reading of the song brings more of the aforementioned blues out of him. It’s easily one of the more memorable moments on an album that only seems to build momentum as it nears its end. One of the album’s potentially underrated strengths, their talent for a good chorus, hits a peak with the refrain for “Your Love”. This is a surprisingly sultry tune for Spotlight, but welcome as it continues illustrating the band’s versatility. “Changes” ends the album with uptempo flair spiked with funk flavor keeping it hopping from the first. The horn section makes important, yet never ostentatious, contributes here as they do throughout the release, but the extra shot of energy accompanying these upbeat numbers lends them a little extra punch. Crack the Dawn is back in a big way as a recording unit and the past and present seamlessly entwine on their album Spotlight.