The eponymous blues ballad "Crowbar Hotel" is arguably the strongest number here, and it also best fits the formula for a hit, with its memorable chorus and easily deciphered lyrics. (Other songs, harder to follow, are kept somewhat at arm's length.) In a heartbreakingly slow tempo, the song deals with a blues commonplace — a girl cheats on a guy, and he takes revenge. But this song tells the rest of the story, with the cuckold paying the price — "ten years in the Crowbar Hotel" — for his temper: "So I'm all cooped up, such a stupid duck / Gotta push this laundry truck, just plain outa luck / But I rung his clock." The tight ensemble of musicians (including Sal D'Agnillo on lead guitar and Jim Latini on drums) raises the song's volume to that of an angry lament but then drops back to a polished whisper, leaving us wondering whether to pity the storyteller or fear him.
Throughout Other Lives, the band and the songs explore contrasts in temperament and mood that make us curious about where this talented Ypsilanti-based group is headed in the future. But on this CD, the band never loses that underlying southern comfort that is as down-home as an old rocking chair.
Crowbar Hotel is at Leopold Brothers on Wednesday, April 10, and at Rubber Soul in Ypsilanti on Friday, April 12.
[Originally published in April, 2002.]