Palm Beach County-bred emo outfit Cru Jones responds to its electrifying 2004 debut album, The Conversation -- which showed a kinship to Saves the Day, Hot Water Music, and Jimmy Eat World -- with an appealing acoustic EP. And what began as a forceful rock and roll troupe (with a moniker that acknowledges the lead character in the revered 1986 BMX flick, Rad) has morphed, if only temporarily, into a stripped-down group in the vein of fellow Sunshine State songwriter Chris Carrabba.
Because of the limits of the wood and wire approach, this four-song disc may not be long on original ideas, but the unplugged tack is in many ways more approachable than the bombastic, over-the-top style its predecessor promised. Steered by frontman Terry Bloom and his brother Mike, the material here was allegedly crafted while they were on tour, in conditions that included a homestate hurricane and a New York blizzard. Cru Jones's reworking of the debut's "Love: A Roadside View (Travel Version)" is an emotive keeper built on shimmering guitar strums and a vocal approach that forgoes the genre's atypical whine. Arguably more impressive is "Rain, Rain," which houses a haunting but familiar mix of despondence and accessibility.
Lilting guitars, piercing harmonies, and ruminative vocals make their points on "Retracing the Steps of Our Stolen Summer," a tune that easily stands up against Carrabba's Dashboard Confessional songbook. Still, "This December Son," the EP's other inclusion, comes off as a missed opportunity. With its biting lyrics and Bloom's pained delivery, this song loses something without the cacophony of thumping drums and squealing guitars wrapped around it.
One hopes the Cru will return to the aural fireworks of yore -- at least part-time. This notion looks promising, because the band recently rebuilt its lineup after the departure of some founding members late last year. In the meantime, A Roadside View exists as an evocative and strong stop-gap experiment.
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