The David Cross Band lets you know you're in for something picturesque right away with Sign of the Crow. The title suggests something portentous while the cover is pure Stephen King. It may suggest a quiet and gloomy listen, but if you know the violinist from his time in early-'70s King Crimson or the genre-spanning collaborations he's done since, you know he's just as capable of cranking it up to the rafters. On this album volume and intensity are the DCB's order of the day.
The feel and imagery may tend to lean dark (likewise the lyrics courtesy of longtime associate Richard Palmer-James), but the music is full of fire. The guitar and bass have some juicy crunch almost bordering on metallic, while Cross's lithe electric violin sings and wails like a restless spirit refusing to stay still. He, Mick Paul and Paul Clark together weave hard-driving compositions with catchy intricate lines, tricky unison runs and the occasional passage in exotic scales or odd time. They're firmly in intelligent prog-rock territory, the kind that's about continually pushing themselves rather than trying to travel backwards to 1973.
The B in DCB sounds more vital than ever; this lineup has stayed the same since 2008 and the results show it. Paul and Craig Blundell keep the rhythm chugging along solidly, even making the potentially awkward peaks and valleys of the title song sound remarkably fluid as the others trade off sizzling solos. On his first recorded foray with the group, Jinian Wilde delivers Palmer-James' vivid words energetically enough to match the music and tastefully enough not to overdo the drama. Elsewhere he's willing to sit out and let the band explore mysterious Eastern-tinged instrumental motifs in the cinematic "Raintwist" and "Water on the Flame."
It can be brooding stuff, but the brooding is done among thundering grooves and sweeping solos. Crackling with electricity or leaving space to breathe, the group is always a tight unit and ready to embrace both light and shade. Maybe the crow is never far away, but that's no reason to wait for it quietly.
Starfall; Sign of the Crow; Crowd Surfing; The Pool; Raintwist; Spiderboy; Mumbo Jumbo; Water on the Flame; Rain Rain.
Jinian Wilde: voice; David Cross: violin; Paul Clark: guitar; Alex Hall: keyboards; Mick Paul: bass; Craig Blundell: drums.