Crack of Dawn – Spotlight
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Crack of Dawn’s new release Spotlight is the band’s first full length studio release since a different version of the band emerged with 1981’s Horizons (released only in Europe) and their third overall since 1976’s self titled debut. The Canadian nine piece originally formed in Jamaica before relocating to the Toronto area in the mid 1970’s and signed with major label Columbia soon afterwards. Their initial run generated a handful of well-received singles that made them a popular choice in dance clubs and also as a formidable live unit who invariably improved on their fine studio recordings with each live performance. Spotlight returns them to what they do best with a powerhouse horn section in tow, but the ten songs included with this new studio recording are thoroughly modern as well and guaranteed to curry favor among younger R&B and funk aficionados.
These guys are pioneers, in some respects, being the first black act out of Canada signed to a major label. It’s a notable achievement, but what’s more notable is their mastery of fundamentals on display from the first with the song “Crack of Dawn”. The band comes out of their corner swinging with a busy horn section arrangement providing all the necessary extra punch the unit needs to make a strong statement with their opener. “Somebody’s Watching”, the album’s second song, moves in another direction as Crack of Dawn workout their funk chops without ever rendering the song into some sort of pastiche or cliché. They amp up the funk feeling even more with Spotlight’s third song “Booby Ruby”, an unapologetic sexually tune that, nevertheless, is delivered in a playful way male and female listeners can enjoy.
“Keep the Faith” is a much different sort of number, less outright funk, and more energetic R&B with a distinct flavor. Much of that flavor is attributable to the song’s message which, regardless of the title’s implications, has a thoroughly secular slant. Michael Dunston turns in another fine singing performance and illustrates, once again, how he helps the music gain an enormous amount of punch by working alongside the band rather than positioning his voice against the music or trying to dominate the song. Carl and Rupert Harvey turn in excellent guitar work on the track “It’s Alright” and the horn section contributes some valuable fills, but it’s Dunston’s vocal once again standing out from the pack thanks to its calm self-assurance and steady way he winds his way through the song’s lyric.
“Ol’ Skool” has a light funk guitar riff juxtaposed against a brief, uplifting keyboard produced melody. This tribute to the musical tradition Crack of Dawn works in is loving and respectful while never succumbing to overwrought sentimentality. “Seasons’ Change” is another of Spotlight’s more thoughtful numbers without ever being rueful despite the loss at the song’s heart. The thoughtful line continues with the album’s title song and the slow burn blues vocal from Dunston never overexerts and co-exists quite effectively with the arrangement’s patient progression. The album’s second half is, arguably, more impressive than the first half because the band moves into new territory as the release rolls on while still retaining winning elements from those initial songs, albeit manifested in a different way. “Changes” brings Spotlight to a meaningful close and the jolting tempo makes it an energetic final curtain for Crack of Dawn’s first studio release in many years.