Music: Keepin' It Reelin'

Cincinnati AltRockers Crybaby succeed as songwriters and showmen

James McKenna

Swaggering and powerful, local rockers Crybaby — who release their first full-length this weekend — strive to create a "spectacle" with every show.

To make an indelible mark on music, a band needs two elements: They must be both catchy and quirky. This is a pretty broad generality, but when you hear that flamboyant mix of familiar and original, you just know it. Only a handful of local bands have the perfect ratio: Crybaby is one of them.

Their sound is a fist full of dual-guitar Rock with shards of Pop Punk, '70s Prog, early '90s Alternative and Americana occasionally peeking through. They have both bluesy swagger and crushing power in abundance. Crybaby does not fully commit to any genre, which makes their sound interesting without being pandering or overly challenging. It's a delicate balance, and this engaging quality has its roots in the members' eclectic taste.

"I like Metal ... and Elliot Smith," says drummer Jon Ford. "Some earlier bands we were in played technical stuff, but we got past that; now we're just trying to write good songs. And have a lot of fun."

That's the key ingredient for these Harrison natives, who have been involved in various bands with one another since high school. The Plural, and Rudy Pat were some of their earlier projects, mainly revolving around the local Punk/Hardcore scene. Guitarist Rusty Morris (who also sits in with a traditional Greek band) and bassist Andy Dole were in a Ween tribute band called Karaoke for Satan. Although only a minor footnote in the band's history, this short-lived project foreshadowed Crybaby's commitment to unrepentant variety and their vow to not take themselves too seriously.

"People have compared us to Nirvana. Several people have said Pinback," recalls Dole. "Somebody said we sound like Tom Petty. Seriously."

"That's it," says Morris. "We sound exactly like Tom Petty."

Another primary mission of the band is to bring their sense of playfulness to the audience. Their live show includes evolving video projections, audio samples and a brand new gimmick at every performance. Even if it's just something as simple as celebrating a fictitious person's birthday, they are hell-bent on some sort of comic chicanery.

"We always try to put on a spectacle for people," says Morris. "We had these very convincing old man costumes once. We had a bake sale. Well, the stuff was free, so it wasn't technically a sale. But I made the brownies."

All of the members are multi-instrumentalists with a good deal of home recording experience. Vocalist/guitarist Mark VanPatten in particular has a proclivity for recording and working a mix until it's golden, which explains the remarkable sound of their debut full-length, Lady Light Evolver. The recording has amazing punch, and the meticulous mix is full of ear candy, from intricate guitar and vocal harmonies to masterful use of effects and found sound.

Another interesting facet of the disc is that it was originally conceived as a space-based concept album, but ultimately the band decided that the sequencing wasn't working, and decided that musical continuity trumped the plot.

"The songs tell a story from two different perspectives, but when we strung them all together, it didn't flow," explains VanPatten. "So the story is still there, just mixed up. It would take some time to figure out."

"And you'd need a complete list of accurate lyrics, which is ... unavailable," Dole says with a laugh.

Some fans will undoubtedly put it all together, because this is not a disc you can listen to just once or twice; it will have listeners reaching for the repeat button religiously. VanPatten is a vocal chameleon with some Cobain-esque qualities, and the Garage-inspired guitar leads are slinky and irresistible. Meanwhile, the rhythm section keeps every song heavy and driving while navigating the stylistic mazes. For a self-produced album, Lady Light Evolver is remarkably catchy and potentially poised for crossover success. The same broad range of fans that went nuts for Queens of the Stone Age would sop up Crybaby with a biscuit.

World domination is not high on the band's "to do" list, but they will be booking some shows out of town in support of the new disc. They also have enough new material to start an EP, not surprising for such a prolific group. Instead of tinkering with the songs in their current catalog, they prefer to capture the definitive versions on tape and then move on.

"We try to write a lot of songs," says Morris. "A whole lot. We have bits and pieces floating around that will eventually get finalized."

"We enjoy playing live and recording, but writing is the most fun," Ford admits. "Hearing something new that is really working on many levels is the greatest feeling."

In the meantime, fans have some memorable shows to look forward to, including the band's CD release gig on Friday at Covington's Mad Hatter. Current plans for the show include a giant vulture puppet that breathes smoke. Dole seems intent on upgrading the experience by making the vulture breathe fire and hiring an exotic dancer, but the rest of the band remains skeptical.

"The vulture has somehow become a symbol for the band in a weird way," muses VanPatten. "Like our power animal. We were also talking about having a petting zoo for this show or maybe an escape artist."

As far as New Year's resolutions go, the band has just one. "Keep rocking," says Dole.

"Reelin' and rockin'," corrects Morris.

"Yeah, we want to add the term 'reelin'' to the popular consciousness," says VanPatten. "Bringing 'reelin'' back to the vernacular is our goal for 2006."

CRYBABY ( celebrates their CD release Friday at the Mad Hatter in Covington.

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