There’s really no better way to begin Crack of Dawn’s album Spotlight than with the song Crack of Dawn. It’s a statement of purpose and identity from a band who seemed poised on the cusp of super-stardom before things fell apart in the late 1970’s and they sound invigorated by another turn at getting their music out there.
Spotlight shows off a collection of veteran musicians who’ve lost nothing of their musical fastball and, instead, play with the wide open joy we typically associate with much younger players. It risks cliché to call Crack of Dawn a band reborn, but that’s what they are, sharing much of the same DNA with the original incarnation and fearlessly bringing the band’s music into the 21st century. The horn section in the album’s opener, the precise and complimentary guitar playing from Carl and Rupert Harvey, and the rhythm section of bassist Charles Sinclair and drummer Carl Otway are crucial to making the song come off so well.
They keep crushing it throughout Spotlight and, if anything, the album gets better as it goes along. The funk aspects of the band’s sound come to the fore in songs like Somebody’s Watching and Booby Ruby; the first of those two numbers is the more restrained, across the board, but the rhythm section stands out here as well despite playing closer within the lines as accompanists. The focus is, definitely, placed a little more squarely on them in the song Booby Ruby and helps accentuate the song’s blunt, physical nature. Keep the Faith walks a fine line between R&B and funk quite artfully and Sinclair’s bass is the primary reason as he pumps out a strong funk sound while still giving the song a swing that’s firmly connected to R&B roots. The vocals in this song are a particular highlight as well.
It’s Alright and Ol’ Skool are looks back at R&B fundamentals, though the former of the two definitely has some of the undercover funk edge we heard with Keep the Faith. The organ flaring up with the introduction of It’s Alright continues throughout the song, albeit layered into the mix, and the drumming from Carl Otway is a delight. The massed vocal approach of Ol’ Skool has a band spirit quite unlike anything else on Spotlight and it’s little wonder since the track is, without a doubt, a love song to the band’s R&B and funk heroes and heroines. Seasons’ Change has a more deliberate approach and its firmly grounded, as well, in R&B textures with some strong lyrics accompanying the song. The horn section on Seasons’ Change really hits home as well and gives the song deep musical richness.
Spotlight is vocalist Michael Dunston’s most bluesy turn yet and shows the thoughtfulness and intelligence their veteran talents bring to the genre. The soulfulness of the song is beyond question and it holds the sort of gravitas you’d be listening for from an album’s title song. Your Love has one of the best choruses on the release, much more about its melody and delivery than content, and this song sticks in the memory despite never attempting to remake the wheel. Changes is Spotlight’s final song and brings this release to a conclusion with a song that can only be very personal for the band’s longest and oldest members. Undoubtedly the years and time are changing much, but they’ve only deepened the talents of this band and the proof comes in these ten songs.