JIM CREAN – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020 Dark Night Records)
Jim Crean, hard rock singer extraordinaire from Buffalo, New York, has issued another covers album called The Book of Cryptids Volume II. Many will shy away at the thought of a covers album, but Crean always picks interesting covers off the beaten track. The Book of Cryptids Volume II works because A) these are not songs you typically hear covered, and B) Jim kicks ass on them all.
It’s a varied album. “Medusa” by Anthrax opens heavily and melodically. You might wonder how a hard rock singer like Crean tackles Anthrax. Without difficulty! Jim has a bit more rasp, but where Joey Belladonna gets aggressive, Jim pays more attention to the notes. It’s a fine trade-off. Second in line is the seldom-covered Aerosmith classic “Kings and Queens”, which is right up Jim’s alley. Sounds like a banjo is thrown in for texture during the verses. For an even deeper cut, check out the flawless version of Def Leppard’s “Mirror Mirror”. It ticks all the boxes from dual guitars to throbbing bass. Old raspy Def Leppard is well suited to Jim, who wrenches some panache from the chorus. An ace performance.
Gowan’s “A Criminal Mind” is definitely an unexpected cover. The only band known for covering it is Styx — featuring Lawrence Gowan. Jim Crean could be the only other singer to dare tackle it? This song might be a bit of a sacred cow in some quarters, but Jim does an admirable job of it. Not vastly different, but with its own unique vocal colours.
Keeping with a synthy 80s plot twist, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” is the old Mike + the Mechanics hit. Cool guitar solo on this track that stays pretty true to the original. Then “Cry For Freedom”, the White Lion slow burner from 1989, is another surprise. Crean has covered White Lion before, but “Cry For Freedom” is a special song. Not a ballad yet not a rocker, it leans heavily on the beat and the vocal. Then it has a guitar burn-up near the end, and this one sounds exactly like Vito Bratta.
A keyboardy piano ballad called “Love Is” (Vanessa Williams) …well, let’s just say it takes balls of steel to put it on the same album as an Anthrax song. Fortunately Jim makes it cool, but not as cool as the earlier “Criminal Mind”. But then it’s a whole different ball park: Mother Love Bone, and “Star Dog Champion”. Again, a song that might be considered sacred in some quarters. Jim’s voice is well suited to it, and this “Champion” is fully enjoyable.
We begin to draw to a close on the Scorpions early dark ballad, “When the Smoke is Going Down”. It’s another song that Crean is capable of bending to his will. Brilliant vocal on this one, especially considering that Klaus Meine has to be a top-five metal singer. Coming down from that climax, the final denoument is surprisingly authentic to the original: the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. This is one of those mountainous peaks that only fools dare to climb. Yet Crean’s winning streak continues unabated. The sonics are so close to the Stones, and everything sounds completely natural. How the hell do you replicate Charlie Watts’ drums on “Gimme Shelter”? Dunno, but it sounds really good!
All this said, you’re still skeptical, right? Covering “A Criminal Mind” and “Gimme Shelter”? A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when reading a glowing review of a covers album. To me, covers are worth listening to when you enjoy the spin that another artist puts on the song. In this case it’s Jim’s voice, a classic hard rock voice that I like a lot. So I’m cool with hearing “A Criminal Mind”, because I like the way Jim sings.
Consider this. We’re 10 months into a worldwide pandemic and gigs have dried up. Some artists, like Jim Crean, are recording and releasing music, and we should be supporting that. He gives you good value for the money. This copy came signed, with a custom Jim Crean guitar pick and signed photo. Not to mention some quality covers of great songs off the beaten track. The Book of Cryptids Volume II comes with cool artwork of various cryptozoological specimens including a kraken, Bigfoot, some sirens and an alien. You can buy this package direct from the artist, so you know the money goes to the right people. Check it out — guaranteed a few of these tracks will put a smile on your face.