Noonday Crawlers

Noonday Crawlers
Desert of When
Truth Virus Records 

If I heard Noonday Crawlers in a setting that didn’t require close attention – like, say, in a dive bar while day drunk – I’m sure I’d be susceptible to the band’s charms. There’s the seed of an entertaining band here, one specializing in late ’60s roots rock. They’d cover Dylan, the Dead and Gram Parsons. They’d close with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and I’d sing along. But this is a review of a studio recording from the Portland band, and its flaws can’t be ignored. Desert of When, the Crawlers’ partially Kickstarter-funded second effort, definitely has grand ambitions. Singer and songwriter Jeff Grinner wrestles with the nature of time itself on lyrics that aim for concept-album profundity, but his singing is tentative and not always on pitch. The arrangements require the skills of a super-tight jam band – lots of guitar solos and extended blues and funk vamps – and the Crawlers just aren’t wired for that. Several songs have immediate promise; the proto-Santana blues of “Big Top” and the straightforward country shuffle of “Saint Mistake” set the table quite nicely. But the thread inevitably gets lost, and it’s usually when Grinner starts singing. The title track is a six-minute slow-build ballad that demands a big, elastic vocal showcase to justify the drama. It’s just too much. By the end, as Grinner sing-speaks the line “Life is just a flash in time,” he sounds tired. He’s not the only one.

— Joe Sweeney

Noonday Crawlers play a CD release show at Portland House of Music on Aug. 25.