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Casual males: Jim Crawley, Denis Drouin, Eric Katz, Joe Crawley. Photo by Joe Putrock

Rock Ready
By Bill Ketzer

Alt-country rockers Crawdad celebrate a new album, and traverse the back roads of their lives right here in their own backyard

The members of Crawdad have no plans to tour in support of their new CD, The Rock Album. Ever. Nope. Sorry. The dogs barked, as they say, but the caravan moved on.

“We plan to tour Albany, maybe Troy, but that’s about it,” says guitarist Jim Crawley. “We don’t really give a shit about record contracts, the music industry or the current flavor of the month. What we do care about is the quality of our music, and the volume at which it is played.”

“And maybe the quality of our beer,” drummer Joe Crawley adds, hoisting a Corona in the general direction of his brother.

It’s not that they can’t play the game. Some may recall a time in the early 1990s when a band named Private Plain—consisting of the Crawley brothers, bassist Eric Katz and erstwhile ax-slinger Jim Caringi—were prime major-label contenders, but the corporate executives and high-interest loans began to sound more like hot air than a fresh windfall.

“We wanted to get signed, so we gave it a great push, generated some interest, but quickly learned how horrible the business really is,” Jim explains. “Now it is all about the rock, my friend.”

The rock, as it happens, comes in the shape of a 12-song disc on Kranepool Records, to be released this Friday at Valentine’s in Albany. According to the band, the project was 100-percent locally grown—conceived, designed, engineered, recorded and otherwise hashed out in both the Crawley laundry room and at the wayward digs of producer Barry Breckenridge (the placement of “The Great” in front of Barry’s name is steadfastly demanded here by the lads). The effort is discussed in a kind of betrothed reverence—each member seems almost shocked to be actually holding it in hand.

“The production is just incredible,” says Jim. “It’s really hard for me to step back and look at this record in an objective way. I’ve been in too deep, so I can’t formulate any opinion on it other than I like the way the songs sound, especially sonically. I like playing them live.”

Katz agrees. “It’s tough to be so intimately involved with something and have perspective. I think at some point you try to leave your influences behind and forge something for yourselves.”

All agree that Buffalo native Denis Drouin helped to achieve that goal, both diversifying and consolidating the Crawdad sound. The guitarist-violinist-vocalist showed up a few years back (no one can remember exactly when) to give the band’s already alt-country flavor an additional kick in the cow jones industrial leverage.

“I had the good fortune of being around some incredible bluegrass players in high school, so we would skip class and hang out in the practice booths of the music department and jam,” explains Drouin. “I grew up in a French Canadian household and my dad had these old-time fiddle records around, so bluegrass was an easy progression for me. This is actually my first rock band!”

“He’s more classy,” adds Katz.

“The flavoring, the spice,” brother Joe says.

“No less rock,” declares brother Jim.

The new material is rock-fury-meets-country- sensibility, but Crawdad are not afraid to venture out to the proverbial toolshed. For example, “War With Bees” hammers a 2/4 Brit-pop beat into due diligence, while the experimental “Hobo Rock” is more an ad hoc Beefheart performance into a vintage Webcore lo-fi audio recorder. Opener “Plank Road” is a “psychedelic country tribute” to the rustic, ever-winding ribbon of tarmac of the same name that runs east through Rensselaer County toward Massachusetts, tracing the contours of rolling hills and streams, leaving more than 300 years of Capital Region settlement and industry in its wake. Could this be a metaphor, a timeline upon which is built upon raw, harmonious currency, evoking all the hindsight and curses of nostalgia?

Jim Crawley pauses. “Plank Road is chock full of ’83 Cutlass Supremes with fat rear tires and Cherry Bomb mufflers and aftermarket headers,” he says. “There are many. But yes, there is a kind of theme there, each tune kind of takes you down that meandering back road, but in your face, like getting hit by Jerome Bettis on a goal line stance.”

All that might and no tour, no smelly GMC van blasting cross-country to spread the good word and the bad medicine?

“We’re all really happy right now,” Joe says. “Why would we want to go and do a thing like that?”

The Crawdad CD-release party will be at Valentines (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany), with Viking Technology, tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 28). Admission for the 9 PM show is $5. For more information, call 432-6572.

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