For the sixth time in in three years, gray dot / Bulletboy has watched a band come up through a series of performances in its non-profit sister business -- an all-ages Christian-centered nightclub. Bands such as Third Day, Squad Five-O, and sundays child have provided staple performances as they honed their bands and cultivated their core audiences. And again, after keeping a keen eye on a local band as they grew over three years' time, Bulletboy has snatched up a group that has equal parts uniquely new sound, solidly accessible songs, and a seriousness about their message that drives them to excellence. Meet Crooked Smile.
Jonathan Hart, Matthew Whitley, Nathan Rudolf, and Brennan Simmons have played together for six years, beginning with the prototypical high school garage "practices," demos, and gigs. As they graduated from high school, the foursome stepped up to the Atlanta club circuit with consistent shows at The Masquerade, The Roxy, The Strand, Miråcle Theåtre, International Ballroom, and Pterodactyl. In 1996, Crooked Smile competed against over sixty other artists in Pterodactyl's annual Battle of the Bands, and won the grand prize of free studio time at Atlanta's Half Moon Bay studios, which they used to record their independent CD, "Position of the Stars." Propelled by local sales, Crooked Smile began landing opening slots in front of Starflyer 59, 77's, Joe Christmas, Dear Ephesus, and many other mainstream local and national acts. While most of the members of the band have not completed their college degrees, they have taken hiatus from their studies to pursue the band's recent growth, and begin their national touring with the release of their new Bulletboy CD, "A Million Things to Say."
Musically, Crooked Smile leaves one fumbling for references, with spots of Matthew Sweet, Live, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler, Lowen and Navarro, Crowded House and The Throes surfacing. Crooked Smile's closest musical cousins, though, are probably the mainstream act, Marcy Playground, just now breaking after their recent tour in front of Toad the Wet Sprocket. The songs saunter and waltz around Jonathan Hart's lazily languid lyrics, swelling when the story he is telling reaches a dramatic peak, often pausing for effect before sassily easing a groove back behind Hart's deceptively unerstated vocals. Never predictable, but never irritating or troublesome, this is that rare kind of music that justifiably achieves both critical acclaim for it's reaching beyond the lowest common denominator, yet tends to suprise same critics by its commercial appeal and success. Such performers see consistently strong sales between the occasional smash hits as twenty and thirty-somethings steadily discover the strength of the songs themselves &endash; bands like Indigo Girls, The Wallflowers, and artists like Susan Ashton, Sam Phillips, and Phil Keaggy come to mind.
Meet Crooked Smile -- They're not the next big thing. They're the next impressive and consistently strong body of work, at the threshold of their career's start. You can write them.
Phantom Tollbooth gave it 4 out of 5.
Live, Blues Traveler, Adam Again, The Wallflowers, R.E.M., Vigilantes of Love, Counting Crows, Room Full of Circles, James, Smalltown Poets, PFR, John Cox, Marcy Playground