3 out of 5 stars
Even the few fans who remember the Cruzados’ two durable but commercially unsuccessful mid-‘80s Arista albums weren’t exactly clambering for a reunion, let alone a follow-up release where the only remaining original member is the bassist. But life, and a pandemic, can take strange turns, resulting in this reformation of sorts.
Two members of the initial Cruzados have passed away leaving just singer/guitarist Tito Larriva and bass player Tony Marsico. The former is MIA (he is in a terrific Austin band called Tito & Tarantula), but Marsico took the reins, hired four other like-minded roots rockers, and let fly. New notes explain that he wanted to pay tribute to his fallen comrades and bring some closure to the Cruzados’ catalog.
While most of the Latino influences that snuck into the group’s music 30 some years ago have been replaced with leathery blues rocking, this resurrected Cruzados reflects the basic, no-nonsense premise intermittently present on their somewhat overthought and overproduced ‘80s work. Marsico also coaxed veteran peers like Dave Alvin along with members of Los Lobos and X’s John Doe to guest and infuse extra credibility even if their contributions aren’t substantial. Larriva’s emotional vocals, so tied to the early Cruzados approach, are missed though, replaced by far gruffer ones from new member Ron Young.
From the thumping Bo Diddley-inflected title track to the country whine of “Sad Sadie,” the latter one of the few ballads, these new Cruzados ladle out meat and potato tunes that crackle with an energy sometimes lacking on their earlier work. There’s a DIY punk aesthetic at work, even if this isn’t directly tied to that genre. Not missed are some of the Springsteen-isms like the strident rock of “Small Town Love” that cropped up on 1987’s second album. There isn’t anything as memorable as “Bed of Lies” either yet you won’t mind as soon as the grizzled driven potency of “Wing and a Prayer” blows the dust off your walls.
Everything was recorded live in the studio and it feels it. Each member is in synch, the songs are sturdy if not exactly new classics, and the project exudes the propulsive sense of veteran players locked in, powered by the love of what they do. Credit producer/engineer Bruce Witkin for capturing this collective’s searing vitality while keeping the audio crisp and edgy.
This is the kind of outfit you would find in a local club, exploding on stage, driving the joint wild with dueling guitars and a scorching vocalist who likely has a bunch of Montrose-era Sammy Hager on his playlist. You may not remember their name the next day but they provided the soundtrack to a great night out. And that’s good enough.