Corey Crowder sticks out like an opposing fan in the student section at a basketball game. He's definitely there for a reason; he's just different than those around him. But in fact, to say this about Crowder's relationship to the rest of the Tooth and Nail roster is almost an understatement. Until his signing late last year, never before had the highly acclaimed label left their comfortable punk rock roots behind in such a way. Dance pop? Sure. Atmospheric indie-rock? Why not. But country? Southern rock? Tooth and Nail had entered an entirely new market. In this way, Crowder was by no means a safe signing, but an ambitious wish and hope that fans would and could embrace something new.
What began as a surprising partnership between an established rock label and a relatively unknown acoustic musician from Greenville, South Carolina turned into one of the largest experiments in Tooth and Nail label history. The result? Crowder's debut album, Gold and the Sand, features an eclectic and soulful mix of southern acoustic tunes that just might be one of the surprise albums of the year. Part jam rock, part country, Gold and the Sand is a trip down South to small country towns and bustling metropolitan areas alike. Imagine John Mayer backed by the Soggy Bottom Boys and you're just a little closer to knowing what Crowder sounds like. Gold and the Sand is nothing but 45 minutes of a man pouring out his soul to the tune of his heart. Don't write this one off yet.
Musically, the album is rather impressive. In contrast to his earlier work, Crowder's arrangements are denser than ever before, still without abandoning the simplicity seen on his previous independent albums. His live band now plays a prominent role in the creation of his sound, adding multiple layers on top of Crowder and his guitar. While his sound may be hard for longtime Tooth and Nail fans to get used to, it's hard to deny the talent that Crowder has.
It's clear that Gold and the Sand is a refreshing departure in itself, but how does the Corey Crowder experiment really fare as a whole? If anything, it should be given a chance. As the label debut of an aspiring and talented musician, Gold and the Sand reveals enough promise that it can be enjoyed even if it might be the first album of its kind in a large collection. Most of what is here displays strong musicianship and a capacity for growth. The use of numerous guitars, horns and strings is impressive for a debut album.
Unfortunately though, Gold and the Sand comes off as random at times. Switching from southern rock to jam rock sometimes without notice, Crowder attempts to blend these two styles with mixed success. While "Look How Far We've Come" is a strong track in itself, its jazz styling seems out of place on the same album with the unashamedly country feel of "Lonesome Road." The same could be said for "Innocence," which features the line that the album is named after. Despite its prominence, the song's jam rock feel hardly reflects the majority of the album. Hints of Crowder's former sound come out on "Leaving You" and "I've Become Something," simple acoustic ballads that are easy to relate to and could be telling the story of anybody's life.
Yet while Crowder seems reluctant to settle down on one particular sound, he proves that he is capable of many. He talks of love and life itself, although he rarely gets spiritual. But there is something about Crowder that's hard to ignore. Perhaps it's because he seems real, not like a rock star far removed from everyday life. Or maybe it's his versatility that is so relatable and enjoyable. No matter the reason, give Corey Crowder a chance. Tooth and Nail did, and it seems to have paid off.- Review date: 11/9/08, written by Flip Choquette of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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