When Crack of Dawn released their debut album back in 1976, they weren’t just cutting another slab of funky vinyl meant to get people shaking to a disco beat. They were essentially creating the foundation of the modern Canadian R&B scene, and today their influence can still be felt from one corner of the country to the next. After an extended hiatus away from the recording industry, the legends of northern funk – guitarists Carl and Rupert Harvey, vocalist Michael Dunston, Bela Hajmann on keys, trumpeter Alexis Baro, trombonist Trevor Darley, sax man Alvin Jones, bassist Charles Sinclair and, of course, drummer Carl Otway – have reunited with only one intention; reigniting the rhythm for a new generation. In their brand new album Spotlight, fans of all ages will discover that Crack of Dawn hasn’t surrendered an ounce of their unparalleled talent in the years that have passed, but in fact they’ve got even better with time. This collection of songs are a fantastic addition to the storied history of both a band and a scene that have never received the attention that they truly deserved.
Opening the album with the song “Crack of Dawn” quickly seems like a no-brainer and they’ve crafted a song worthy of bearing the band’s name. One of the best parts of this song, for me, is how adeptly they straddle the line between tasteful, artistic restraint and conveying joyful energy you hear in every bar of the song. Michael Dunston, the band’s singer, sounds freed in particularly and unleashes a performance potentially capable of waking coma patients. The opener has a stronger R&B influence than the two numbers that follow – both “Somebody’s Watching” and “Booby Ruby” are dyed in the wool funk gems, though the former softens the approach more than the latter. “Booby Ruby” is an unabashed romp and Charles Sinclair’s bass pumps in a masterful way throughout the song, yet never gets self-indulgent or overzealous. “Keep the Faith” flirts with some of the weaker influences in the band’s wheelhouse, gospel, but never comes across as religious. Instead, the songwriting uses the musical and lyrical language of the style for a soulful R&B tune that gives Dunston ample room to explore his talents.
“Ol’ Skool” has a cool, relaxed R&B slant and a nice melody largely carried by the keyboards, but Michael Dunston gives listeners another empathic vocal certainly showing his mastery of singing R&B material. The funk influences we hear in earlier songs like “Booby Ruby” are scarcely in evidence on “Ol’ Skool” and the band shows themselves to be every bit as skilled with R&B trappings. I find “Seasons’ Change” to be the album’s best song, a note perfect realization of the band’s R&B sound with meaningful lyrical content Dunston gets across with feeling. The luxurious unfolding of the song is never rushed and has quite an effect on listeners. Crack of Dawn closes the album with “Changes”, a lively R&B tune with an understated funk sound and complimentary backing vocals. Carl Harvey’s salvos of fiery lead guitar put a bold exclamation point on the song and it makes for a potent closer. Crack of Dawn’s Spotlight knocks it out of the park and seems certain to win over a new generation of fans for the band.