JJ Crowne Debut CD Review
I was asked to review the latest album by JJ Crowne via “Soundcloud”, and whilst this is a great way of sharing music quickly I cant help feeling that I’m missing out on sound quality and the benefits of artwork and band information. His Myspace site doesn’t give any background information other than to say that Mr Crowne has written music for television and radio and that he has opened shows for country music superstars “The Mavericks”
The album starts out with an upbeat driving anthem “Only Time” with a hooky melody and progressive chord sequence that (strangely) reminded me of the Foo Fighters hit “Learn to Fly”. JJ’s double-tracked vocal has a vulnerable quality to it, which is quite appealing, and this is used to great effect in the wash of sweet and close harmonies, which leaps out in the choruses. I say leap out because they are at the forefront of the mix. They also sound quite mechanical, as though a harmonizing effect has been used. The album continues with the second track “Another Day of Love” A stepped down look at Christian values at work in Crowne’s own neighbourhood. It’s a brave lyricist who will tackle this type of subject matter as it is very easy to sound contrived and fake, I’m sure that JJ’s convictions are from the heart as he bares his faith on his sleeve with this song. It also features the bizarre line “I’m the one with Jesus in my heart and on my bumper too”! …as our American friends are fond of saying – ‘go figure’!
By the fifth song “Best of Intentions” JJ has firmly established his style squarely in the country ballad genre. With instrumentation such as piano and slide guitar all the obligatory sounds are present. Here the harmonies though still overly prominent are perhaps more appropriate to this piece. “Kindred Hearts” carries on the ballad run with a laid back tune about young love. “Lies we Lived Before” is a breath of fresh air in the running order as the band start rocking it up a little. I could hear some phasing problems in this track and I would hope that it is the effect of the SoundCloud compression rather than a problem with the track. By the time we get to “She and He” the mood has changed significantly and the introduction of the saxophone makes a remarkable difference to this material. It is the perfect counterpoint sound to JJ’s vocal, with its smooth texture filling in the soundscape without over-powering it. Perhaps the most poignant track is the penultimate song “Toy Soldiers” …it was a long time coming but we finally reach a minor key. A stripped back production allows JJ’s voice to come through. It’s only a shame that the harmonies re-emerge in full force. I’m sure it would have benefited from holding back a little on the number of vocal parts.
Some of the songs make use of keyboard sounds to emulate real instruments. In the case of “Another Day of Love” some rather harsh sounding brass sounds cut right through the mix and are so obviously false that they spoil the otherwise sincere lyrics. The main problem with the album is the overuse of the vocal harmonies. Its almost like every song has to have a full choral backing in each chorus which sadly has more of a detrimental effect than a positive one. The secret to a great arrangement is in balancing the sounds and although harmonies help to add body and substance, they need to work subtly and simply to be most effective. A simple third or fifth harmony part is less obviously but makes a subtle difference rather than an onslaught to the senses.
Overall this is an impressive debut by JJ Crowne – he has clearly mastered his craft in terms of music production –with his background work for commercial TV and radio. If ultra-commercial highly polished country-tinged pop music is your thing then this is the perfect CD to buy or download and add to your collection. My own view is that I would like to see more originality in the music – something that we haven’t heard before. Whilst his musical talent and song-writing prowess is undoubted, there is very little in the way of risk in these songs and nothing that stands out from all the other artists working this genre. JJ would really benefit from a little experimentation and hopefully find a unique selling point, that way he would stand out from the crowd and get the world buzzing about his music. I wish him every success with his next recording.
Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars
This review was written by Neil Thomas for the Rock n Roll View.