That’s my initial and abiding reaction to “Motion Animal,” the first single off Chris Richard aka crash‘s solo debut, Hardly Criminal. Crash, backup singer for the Magnetic Zeros and frontman for Deadly Syndrome, finally gets to spotlight his tenor at its sultry finest on this dressed-down soul track, and the motown gods are surely pleased.
Anyone familiar with the singer’s work would be surprised to see him stick fully in one genre for a full album, though, and Hardly Criminal expands satisfyingly from soul outward. Crash grew up in Louisiana, imbibing a country-fied blend of Americana, folk, and New Orleans street-performer blues, and he can do all those styles with equally endearing swagger. “Motion Animal” comes two tracks in and holds its title as the catchiest number through the end of this record, but we hear plenty of that danceability on the down-homier “If God Was A Cajun” and the string-happy “All My Friends.” What’s especially impressive about Hardly Criminal, though, is how well crash pulls off the slower, sweeter stuff. On the succinct “Song For The Birds,” crash keeps his oddball charm in the lyrics (“Was feeding you worms/but I forgot that you don’t eat them”) but strums introspective layers of round-like, repetitive acoustic guitar, angling his voice away from soul flourish and towards a simpler, more vulnerable croon. “Britches Catch Fire,” one of the album’s most impressive demonstrations of crash’s sheer power to sustain a high note, hints at gospel in the harmonies. His versatility looms large, and surprises again and again on this record.
All told, the quieter tracks add up to a majority of Hardly Criminal, and I would have liked to see the album filled out with a couple more swingers – “Motion Animal” left me jonesing for more groove – but both in terms of songwriting and vocals, crash skillfully pulls off every style he ambles into on this collection. No matter the flavor, every single track on Hardly Criminal is worth a replay. This cat is it.
Hardly Criminal drops May 6th. You can preorder it here, and check the “Motion Animal” music video below for a soulful blast of groovy get-down: