Crack The Sky - Ghost

Year of Release: 2002
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: CTS102901
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:59:00

If you have ever wondered what Bob Dylan would sound like singing Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," we get that, sort of, with Crack The Sky's "Zoom," on their latest release Ghost. Yes, there's that restrained, nasally rasp associated with Dylan, at least of late, and that dreamy haze of Pink Floyd's classic cut from The Wall, here melded together. And if you take Floyd's "Us And Them," hazy dreaminess, echoes, and all, and plonk a weary voiced Bruce Springsteen at the forefront for a few bars, stick a couple of female backing vocalists on either side of him, add some jazz stylings (tinkling piano and snickering drums) and you have "Zazen" (Though for a moment I also thought of Fish). This track features some absolutely delicious guitar work, and in fact, for me, that his highlight throughout this album. The wonderful lead guitar work. Not every track features such a thing, but those that do...

Don't worry, we'll get back to the album itself, but here's some background for both the band and myself. Crack The Sky's history goes back to 1975, when their first, self-titled album was released. Their story is a tumultous one, having broken up and reformed several times over the intervening years. Their's has not been overwhelming success -- though, as they point out in the liner notes, they have survived when other, more "successful" acts have not. Though, what is success but not longevity in doing what you enjoy doing? Obviously, if you can keep doing it, there is some measure of success, even if it doesn't mean you've got billions of dollars in an off-shore or Swiss bank account. And most of today's successful artists blow their millions on, well, blow. Or cars. Or gambling. Or on any of a number of vices. So, who's to say that a lengthy career out of the spotlight isn't success? In fact, the first definition of success is "a favorable result." In any case, I wasn't meaning to suggest that CTS have no fan base, that they release albums that only they and the press listen to. In fact, some of those fans were tossing the CTS name into the "NEARfest 2003 wishlist" hat, though there isn't actually such as thing, as Rob and Chad would be quick to point out. Well, except at the beginning of the vetting processes when they conduct a poll, but that was eons ago. And anyway, none of this has to do with CTS specifically.

Anyway, the point is... Yeh, what was my point? Oh yes, Ghost is their 17th release. A band that doesn't have any success of any type certainly wouldn't have released 17 albums, right? At least not over a span of years, right? They'd have shuffled on to some other occupation. Stock broker, perhaps, though that isn't the cash cow career it was a year or so ago. My history with Crack The Sky goes back to January 2001 when I published Clayton's review of their previous release Cut (though I also published in May his review of Ghost). Truly, however, it began just a several days ago when I first played this CD, which had been sent to me some months ago. Thus, I don't really know much about CTS, so whether this Floydian ingredient to their sound is new or has always been there, I can't say. Seems that The Beatles were the main influence on Cut (and Clay says that Ghost is a departure for CTS).

So, this brings us to an interesting point. Well, I find it interesting, at least. There are times where I thought of Porcupine Tree. Not the metallic, Nine In Nails-like, Opeth-like quartet they are now, but the PTree of, say, an album or so back, with ties back to their roots. Oh yeh, what were those roots? Being Pink Floyd-like. Uh-huh. Only here we would have a Porcupine Tree where the prickly voiced Dylan Springsteen handles lead vocals, and a jaded, caustic and cynical lyricist handles the verbage. Both of these roles are played by John Palumbo, who also plays guitars and synthesizers. Bobby Hird and Rick Witkowski also play guitars, as does Carey Ziegler, but it's a bass guitar... John Tracey is behind the drum kit (and banging on it, too), with Glenn Workman tinkling keyboards and a piano. Listen to "Ghost" and tell me you don't think of Porcupine Tree. No, seriously. I mean it. There are mp3 clips at their website. And it's not just that Palumbo sounds like Wilson ... oh wait, didn't I say it was Dylan Springsteen on vocals? Okay, well, not here. But it's more than just vocals, the sparse percussion, the throbbing bass, the shimmery guitars, the chiming guitars (remembers there's three of 'em) ... everything. So very much like something from Lightbulb Sun.

"Coconuts," which sounds like the band are going to break into "Play That Funky Music" for a moment, takes aim at our need for conformity and to be led. Instead we get a warped and twisted, rubberized ... thing. Though this isn't what they meant, I hear the ghost of Kevin Gilbert in this piece. Palumbo sounds a bit like Gilbert during the verses, but unlike him in the chorus. And, I'm not suggesting any influence in either direction, but Gilbert was a wry lyricist and Palumbo is as well. And you know I love that kinda stuff. But hey, I also thought of Jimmy Buffett. Maybe it was the image of coconuts that did it. Of course, this is Buffett who realizes that Margaritaville is no longer the drunken paradise it once was ... that there's more to worry about than a lost shaker of salt. And, of course, the chorus' refrain of "It takes a village," will recall the Hilary Clinton book with the same title.

The energetic music of "I," which is spearheaded by a repeated fuzzy guitar phrase while another guitar keens and swoops in the background (all over throbbing bass and drums), is played against the slow vocal delivery. It's is enough to make you anxious and figity. Well, it's making me anxious and figity... which might surprise some of those who know me to be very sedate, calm... Other than the guitar textures, this track doesn't do much for me...other than make me anxious and figity. It does dip for a moment into a it of lounge jazz which is played off a Crimson-like, angry and angular guitar work out.

Of course, this is followed by "Go" which will have the opposite effect and make you think you've been sedated. Or at least drugged... where you find your arms floating away from you, off on their own adventure, while your legs head off on their own. "Isn't time for me to go?" Palumbo sings dreamily (ooh, isn't he dreamy?). Yes, everywhere at once. You become a living Salvadore Dali painting, melting, dripping, drifting all at once, in psychedelic colours and patterns you though had been outlawed in the 80s by the Reagans and the Reaganites. Do I speak from experience? Well, yes. I'm listening to this album right now. And no, I'm not high at the moment.

Some more random thoughts and then I'll let you go. Other Floydian/PTree moments here can be found in the floaty "Fly" (see my description of "Go") which sounds like a more languid than Floyd ever got, throwing in some Spanish guitar-like arpreggios for could measure. But here, this is more than some drug induced feeling of expansion. Here we are slipping out of our skin and become like the gentle breeze that blows, like the wispy clouds that float over head. "Tomorrow" is funk by way of rhythms... "USA" ... well, having mentioned Springsteen... you know how miscontrued "Born In The USA" was? That instead of it being a rallying cry of American pride it was a sardonic look at the disenfranchised, the forgotten Vietnam vets, etc.? Well, "USA" takes aim at the USA, too. But from a different angle -- and sounding like Midnight Oil meets B52s. I could run through their politics -- and remember, politics means more than just the electorial system -- but that'd take another thousand words or so. And I've likely already lost you anyway, yes?

Well, hang on just another sec. For the most part I like this album. "I" doesn't do much for me, as I said, but I do like lead guitar work throughout, and the dreamy textures. Because I have no reference from which to judge this album against prior releases, all I can do is look at it as it is, for what it is. This is for the most part a very mellow album, that ocassionally shakes things up a bit.

Coconuts (5:52) / Ghost (4:57) / I (5:20) / Go (6:01) / Fly (5:05) / Tomorrow (4:08) / Zoom (8:57) / USA (5:18) / Zazen (5:21) / Husband (3:54)

John Palumbo - vocals, guitar, synthesizer
John Tracey - drums
Cary Ziegler - bass
Bobby Hird - guitar
Rick Witkowski - guitar
Glenn Workman - keyboards, piano

Crack The Sky (1975)
Animal Notes (1976)
Safety in Numbers (1978)
Live Sky (1978)
White Music (1980)
Classic Crack (1980)
Photoflamingo (1981)
World In Motion I (1983)
The End (1983)
Raw (1987)
Dog City (1989)
From The Greenhouse (1989)
Rare (1994)
Crack Attic (1997)
Cut (1998)
Live: Recher Theater (2000)
The Best Of The Rest (2000)
Animal Notes/Safety In Numbers (2000)
Live On WBAB (2000)
The Best Of Crack The Sky (2000)
Ghost (2002)
Dogs From Japan (2004)
The Sale (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: December 2nd 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1020
Language: english


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