Published on 27th February 2021
Crack The Sky – Tribes
Crack the Sky is an American progressive rock band formed in Weirton, West Virginia in the early 1970s. In 1975, Rolling Stone named their first album ‘Debut Album of the Year’, and the 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide even compared them to Steely Dan! Their first three albums made it into the Billboard 200 and in 2015 the debut appeared at number 47 in the Rolling Stone list of ’50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time’, cited by the magazine as “original, humorous, and polished without seeming too arty”. The band continues to release albums and perform for a small but dedicated fan base to this day. In an extensive article in 2018, Rolling Stone named Crack the Sky as “the best American prog band you’ve never heard of”.
The band has known many line-ups since 1975, but founder/composer/singer John Palumbo (70) has always been present, with the exception of a small gap between ’78 and ’79. The same can be said of co-founder/guitarist Rick Witkowski (68), absent between ’81 and ’88, and guitarist Bobby Hird, member since 1981. Keyboardist Glenn Workman (joined 1997), drummer Joey D’Amico (2003) and bassist Dave DeMarco (2010) are relative ‘newcomers’. These musicians have just released their highly anticipated eighteenth studio album, Tribes, with videos for the first two singles (the title track and Another Civil War) already released on YouTube.
The group celebrated the 45th anniversary of their acclaimed debut in 2020, but Crack the Sky has no intention of resting on its laurels. The new album is a fierce and aptly titled manifesto, recorded at Studio L in Weirton, produced and mixed by guitarist Rick Witkowski. The thirteen songs may well be counted among Crack the Sky’s best work to date. The content is wide and varied, both lyrically and musically, as Tribes excellently articulates the tenor of the current era.
The lyrics are extremely topical, you can almost envision the storming of the Capitol during Another Civil War (“You hate me ’cause I don’t think like you, I hate you, looks like we’re heading to another civil war”), the battle between Democrats and Republicans in Tribes (“We take sides, believing in our tribes”) or the fierce indictment against leaders/politicians in Dear Leaders (“Dear leaders, are you listening? Are you watching this? There’s something wrong with you”). Stranger in a Strange Land narrates the alienation and hate (“There is no love, only hatred”) while We Don’t Know makes fun of fake news (“We don’t know what’s going on, what they tell us could be wrong”). Incredibly accurate, as if Palumbo and co had foreseen the impossible long before it actually happened. Perhaps these lyrics from Another Civil War are the most hopeful: “I know you love the USA, you know I love the USA, why don’t we use that as a start?” Let’s hope so. It should be noted that Crack the Sky doesn’t take any sides: they remain neutral.
Take a look at the striking cover design, too: a protester, wearing a gas mask, faces a line of police officers protecting a building. How visual do you want this to be?
John Palumbo acknowledges that, indeed, we all live in troubled times: “I want people to think. That’s it. I just want ’em to think. I also want them to be entertained, which is why we do this, but the entertainment part really comes from live performance. But, overall, I want people to think.”
You have to get used to Palumbo’s voice, somewhere between Dave Cousins (Strawbs) and Joe Walsh (Eagles), both not really known for their vocal qualities. But the frontman’s somewhat unsteady, sometimes even atonal singing voice fits well with the forceful lyrics and music on this album. Music that is just as fierce and vicious as the lyrics.
The opening title track immediately sets the tone for the album: a sharp, loud rock song with biting lyrics. Another Civil War is a good prog song with a nice bass intro, banjo, military drums and a reference to the real Civil War with the whistle at the end. Drums and bass plus electronics as background for monotonous, metallic guitar sounds in Dear Leaders, while Blowing Up Detroit even houses a real horn section.
Quick is without a doubt the top track here. Clocking at almost nine minutes, the intro features strings playing a recognisable recurring theme. It develops into a great prog rock song with brilliant heavy guitar duets in the style of Wishbone Ash and Iron Maiden, strings taking over again towards the end. Another Beautiful Day is a straightforward Ramones-style rocker (hey, hey!) with a Bowie twist.
Not just the voice but the instrumentation is also strongly reminiscent of Joe Walsh (In the City) in All My Innocence, and that also applies, to a lesser extent, to the subsequent Drinking Myself Sober. No Iron Maiden or Spock’s Beard (or Barbara Streisand) on Stranger in a Strange Land, but again dual guitars – “There is no love, only hatred”. Not very hopeful, and We Don’t Know is also not overflowing with positivism in its charge against fake news and party propaganda.
Alligator Man has the intro of Those Shoes by The Eagles in a Zappa-like song with Bowie influences in the choruses (shooby doo wop) – how diverse can a song be? This does not apply to Boom Boom, not a particularly special song, a bit dime a dozen. Fortunately, closing song The Lost Boys is a wonderfully pounding Bowie-like song (Fashion) with funky horns.
More than an hour of biting rock with ditto lyrics in the form of mostly four to five minute songs. Lots of influences too, from The Eagles (Joe Walsh) to Zappa and especially Bowie. Maybe not all equally good and not always prog, but I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
01. Tribes (4:36)
02. Another Civil War (5:21)
03. Dear Leaders (5:01)
04. Blowing Up Detroit (4:39)
05. Quick (8:34)
06. Another Beautiful Day (4:13)
07. All My Innocence (4:26)
08. Drinking Myself Sober (4:39)
09. Stranger in a Strange Land (4:43)
10. We Don’t Know (4:06)
11. Alligator Man (4:25)
12. Boom Boom (4:09)
13. The Lost Boys (4:25)
Total Time – 63:17
John Palumbo – Guitars, Keyboards, Lead Vocals
Rick Witkowski – Guitars, Vocals
Joey D’Amico – Drums, Vocals
Bobby Hird – Guitars, Vocals
Glenn Workman – Keyboards, Vocals
Dave DeMarco – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Record Label: Carry On Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th January 2021
– Tribes (2021)
– Vinyl Reissue (2020)
– Crackology (2018)
– Living in Reverse (2018)
– The Beauty of Nothing (2015)
– Östrich (2012)
– Machine (2010)
– All Access [DVD] (2008)
– The Sale (2007)
– Alive and Kickin’ Ass (2006)
– Dogs From Japan (2004)
– Ghost (2001)
– The Best of the Rest (And Then Some) (2000)
– Live Recher Theatre (2000)
– Cut (1998)
– Rare! (1994)
– Dog City (1990)
– From The Greenhouse (1989)
– Raw (1986)
– The End (1984)
– World In Motion I (1983)
– Photoflamingo (1981)
– Classic Crack (1980)
– White Music (1980)
– Safety By Numbers (1978)
– Live Sky (1978)
– Animal Notes (1976)
– Live on WBAB (1976)
– Crack The Sky (1975)