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.
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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.