Find It: cranfordhollow.bandcamp.com
Over its four previous studio albums, the Hilton Head quintet Cranford Hollow refined an all-smiles blend of country twang and acoustic-electric Southern rock, accented by singer/guitarist John Cranford’s gravelly vocals and the mournful fiddle of Jeff Reid. Sounding like some kind of Uncle Tupelo/Drive-By Truckers combo, the band seemed content to continue mining that roots-rock niche. At least until now.
Color/Sound/Renew/Revive is a telling title for an album that sounds like nothing these guys have done. The raw, loose rock ‘n’ roll feel is gone, replaced by infinitely more polished, atmospheric production and more keyboards than the outfit has ever used. On the opening “Songfield,” the rhythm section fashions a tight, slow-rolling pocket, and Reid’s fiddle seems to echo endlessly into the distance. Cranford’s vocals are less ragged, and his delivery is more melodic and focused. The songs in general are longer and more complex, with several moving past six minutes and into jam-band territory.
Rather than simply demoing the songs before heading into the studio as the act normally does, John Cranford made detailed pre-recordings of the songs with a couple of band members, with many of the instrumental arrangements already firmly in place, lending new precision to the group’s work.
It’s certainly a different direction, and it’s not hard to imagine this new keyboards-and-jams version of Cranford Hollow taking aback longtime fans. But the execution is so well-done, and the production (by Cranford and Preston Havill) and mixing (by Howard Willing) are so rich and detailed that it’s hard not to be seduced.
It might not translate so easily live — indeed, Cranford has had to switch almost entirely from guitar to keyboards onstage, and the band has added another guitarist, Yannie Reynecke — but the recorded results are tuneful, expertly played and polished without zapping the group’s energy. — Vincent Harris