I haven’t seen a lot on this, but Starcrawler just released an EP of acoustic versions of songs from their last album, She Said. The new EP is entitled, creatively, Acoustic Sessions. The whole EP thing seems to be a lot more prevalent and popular these days. A lot of bands released EPs last year – Billy Idol (The Cage), the Black Crowes (1972) and we even got an EP from the Neil Young vaults (Eldorado, recorded in 1989). I don’t remember seeing a lot of EPs when I started collecting music “back in the day.” I have vague memories of R.E.M.’s Chronic Town, but that was more in retrospect after they got bigger. I wasn’t cool enough to have owned that EP. On a record (yes, vinyl) EP means Extended Play. That just means there are more songs than a single which only had one song on each side but shorter than a Long Player also known as an album. Starcrawler’s Acoustic Sessions contains stripped down versions of 5 tracks.
Of course B&V is on record as being big fans of Starcrawler. It was the Rock Chick who turned me on to the band after having seen them at a festival out in Denver with our daughter. She was slightly amused/taken aback by the on stage antics of lead singer Arrow de Wilde who spat fake blood on the crowd before leaping head first into the front row. I remember watching YouTube videos of the band in performance and thinking, “These guys are fantastic.” I immediately purchased their first album, Starcrawler. I finally saw them live for the first time at the Riot Room in KC around the time of the release of their second album Devour You. That concert and that second album were both fantastic. I actually saw them for the second time, shortly before the release of their latest LP, last year’s She Said. I had certainly hoped, that like so many other bands, the third time (album) would be the charm and it would break big, giving Starcrawler more attention. Again, I really enjoyed that second show we saw last fall and even the Rock Chick said, as we strolled out of the venue, “That was a great show.” I really felt they were evolving as a band. I would have classified them as punk rock or a mix of punk and classic after the first two records. But I’ve started hearing a classic rock, Stonesy thing in their music.
Live, de Wilde and lead guitarist Henri Cash have really developed a cool chemistry on stage, very 70s Mick and Keith or Plant and Page. I actually just saw Starcrawler open up for Bush a month or so ago and they were as usual, great. Although it was clear by her comments to the crowd toward the end of the set that Arrow would have liked a more animated response from the KC crowd… Call us boring Arrow, but please, don’t insult our BBQ. When we told our daughter that we’d seen Starcrawler yet again she laughed and said, “I think you’ve seen them every time they’ve played KC…” Anyway, for the last LP the band brought in a new drummer, Seth Carolina, who replaced founding member Austin Smith. They also brought in Henri’s younger brother Bill Cash to play rhythm guitar and more importantly, especially for this EP, pedal steel guitar. Tim Franco rounds out the lineup on bass.
Starcrawler’s music can usually only be described as raucous. These guys on vinyl are taking no prisoners. I am not exaggerating when I say Acoustic Sessions is a radical re-imagining of the She Said tracks. The first track on the EP, “Broken Angel” was a bit of a ballad in it’s original form and it didn’t surprise me that it was included, but nothing prepared me to hear plaintive, sad piano and pedal steel on this acoustic version. This version of “Broken Angels” is as sad as Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris in the 70s. de Wilde sings in an almost whisper. Henri Cash does add a few electric guitar textures. They traded loud rock for country-ish rock. I may have to consider putting a track or two from this EP on my “Rockers Going Country-ish” playlist… and when I say country rock I mean classic 70s country rock (Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield), not this new country crap you hear today.
The next track, “Runaway,” in it’s original form is a “meet me at the finish line” rocker. Fast and hard. It’s a jittery, throbbing tune. It’s gone from a haymaker, rabbit punch to a caress. On Acoustic Sessions, it sounds like something off The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack. Bill Cash’s pedal steel on this track is the definition of “plaintive.” de Wilde’s vocals are again quiet and almost whispered. There’s a grit to her voice on these versions that is so appealing. Henri provides a nice harmony vocal. Hearing these songs slowed down changes my whole perspective on Starcrawler’s lyrics. There’s no sneering here it’s been replaced with, well, sincerity. The call and response of the chorus, “Take me home, take me home” between de Wilde and Cash is sublime.
The third track, “True,” has gone from a live-wire pounder to a strummer. Where it charged after you in it’s original form it waltzes past now. I did see some press stuff on how the band, when they write tunes, write and arrange them acoustically and then convert them to electric rocking songs. I must admit I like this version of “True” better than the original. It sounds like Seth Carolina is playing brushes on the drums. He really is nimble here.
The fourth track is the first single from She Said, the rollicking “Roadkill.” Where the original version was like a race car this version is like a hay-ride. de Wilde and Cash harmonize really nicely on this track. This version could not be more different than the original. Although I must admit, the lyric “You want mommy to hold your hand” does maintain the sneering, put-down vibe of the original. The song verges on, dare I say, “twangy,” and I say that in a good way.
The band wraps up with “Stranded.” It was one of my favorite tracks on She Said and I’ll admit it’s a favorite track here. A few mornings since I bought this thing I’ve woken up with this acoustic track playing on my “Mental Jukebox.” Again, I’m not sure whose playing the piano on this track – I assume it’s Henri Cash – it’s a perfect accent. The chorus, while much quieter than the original, still comes across with a lot of force… “Stranded on the side of a one-way street, The stars in her eyes won’t shine on me, Whisper in the night hoping someone sees, Shine on me, shine on me… oh shine on me…” Great stuff!
I’m hoping as this band develops they’ll incorporate more of these acoustic touches in their music, maybe the same way as Zeppelin used to do, blurring light and dark, acoustic and electric. They’ve got an under-used asset in Bill Cash’s pedal steel. I will admit I’d have liked to hear them take a few more chances here – like maybe a version of the cover they do in concert, “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough,” or some other classic cover song… maybe a Stones cover. But other than that nit of a complaint, I really dig this EP. It’s a little, late night listen for when you’re sipping whiskey and you don’t want to go to bed and you don’t wanna wake anybody kinda jam. And I have to admit, this is a very “classic rock” move, re recording songs in acoustic versions and I’m all for anything classic rock!