Based out of New Haven, Connecticut, fuzzy trio Crooked Hook were a rarity for East Coast heavy rock. During their time together, they put out a self-titled demo EP (2006) and a follow-up full-length, called The Captain Will be Your Guide (2007), garnering some considerable appreciation among the faithful, but not really fitting in with the heavy rock of the day. There were a few others around of their ilk — Pennsylvania’s Pearls and Brass come to mind most readily — but Crooked Hook had more classic rock swagger mixed with their blues, and their tones were straight-up vintage ’70s in a way that hadn’t really caught on yet as a viable approach. In the end, they faded following the release of The Captain Will be Your Guide and haven’t been heard from since.
Safety Meeting Records, which initially issued the 28-minute demo as well as the subsequent album on CD, is revisiting Crooked Hook‘s beginnings with a reissue of the former. Pressed to 150 gram, 45 RPM vinyl (a CD is also included), they are limited to 100 copies and duly faithful to the sweet, organic tonality of the original release. In fact, with a similarity in packaging that goes right down to the thick cardboard stock of the LP sleeve and the stamped design on the front cover — the CD came in the same style package, but obviously smaller — everything about this seven-years-later version of Crooked Hook‘s Crooked Hook harkens back to when these songs first appeared. The only difference is the format and the fact that in 2013, one can listen to the five tracks in a totally different context.
The difference? Well, in the last seven years, what was an oddball approach from Crooked Hook as early adopters of the post-Witchcraft vintage ethic has become a mainstay element of underground heavy. It’s always easy (and often fun) with a reissue to imbue an album with posthumous import, as though simply because it’s removed now from its original sonic ecosystem, it matters more, but there’s little question in my mind that the band were ahead of their time. In fact, that was probably the problem. If Crooked Hook were kicking around the seven-minute “I Just Might Crack” today, they’d be right in line with some of Tee Pee Records‘ best echoey retro heavy psychedelia. Their songs were catchy and straightforward enough to be readily accessible, thick enough in bassist Rick Omonte‘s tone and imbued with a grooving nonchalance by guitarist Joey Maddalena‘s vocals that “cool” became as much an instrument as anything else. Even on the closing jangle of “Slow Sun,” on which drummer Jason Bates thumps out a blues stomp beneath more open guitar, they seem to presage the big-sky Americana that’s currently working its naturalist way into US heavy psychedelia.
And their fuzz, if it stood up live to how it sounds on “Electric Friend,” one can easily see flooring unsuspecting rooms at SXSW or some other such gathering of stumbleupons. In Maddalena‘s wah leads there, I can hear the grace that pervades some of France’s Mars Red Sky nowadays, and Crooked Hook did the soothing guitar blues opening “Oreon” prior to the worldwide embrace of vintage ethics that followed the first (and second) Graveyard albums, setting American rhythmic thrust next to European tonal serenity and discovering a rarely attained level of organic heavy rock bliss and a balance that few have achieved since. I remember hearing the CD when it came out in 2006 and thinking Crooked Hook were headed for great things, and for whatever reason they didn’t get there, but I stand by the summery warmth of the EP and the potential that was bleeding through the winding chorus of “Tempting Mystic” and the burgeoning chemistry within this trio that never got to fully develop.
As for what happened, how that story ended, I don’t really know. I remember seeing The Captain Will be Your Guide at Phoenix Records (R.I.P.) in Waterbury, CT, and thinking I should grab it, but it wasn’t until some time later that I actually did, and I don’t know if it was a change in the production that took away from some of the fuzz or just the influence of the intervening years on how I heard the album when it came to it, but though it was enjoyable, it left a much less resonant impression on me as a listener than the demo when first I heard that. By then, Crooked Hook were long gone, so it really didn’t matter, and I’ve yet to see any word of a reunion around this reissue of their first recording. Maybe they were just lucky enough to capture something special that one time and that was all they had in them, or maybe they were one more heavy rock act who deserved more attention than they got. Makes no sense to speculate. Either way, these songs have only gained presence for the span that has passed since they first met public ears, and though Crooked Hook aren’t a band anymore, their material seems more than willing to stand the test of time in their stead.
Tags: Connecticut, Crooked Hook, Crooked Hook self-titled, New Haven, Safety Meeting Records, self-titled