There are two major routes that a punk singer will typically take when they go solo: they can opt to go completely solo like Chuck Ragan or Tim Barry, or they can go solo while still employing a full band, a la Chris Wollard or Dave Hause. Strung Out’s Jason Cruz has taken the latter road, and his solo project, Jason Cruz and Howl, sees him being backed by Buddy Darling (of the Darlings) on guitar, Chris Stein (of Saccharine Trust) on bass, and drummer Kris Comeaux.
It should be obvious that anyone expecting the typical blasts of melodic skatepunk that Cruz is known for will be in for a disappointment with the band’s debut LP, Good Man’s Ruin. Jason Cruz and Howl establishes itself as a very different act right off the bat: The opening “War Song” begins with a bluesy guitar lick before it picks up into a rockin’ near-country tune. Between the walking bassline and the slide guitar, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t music made for skating. This is the type of music that goes well with a couple of whiskey shots and a billiards table.
Despite their backgrounds as punk and hardcore veterans, the members of Jason Cruz and Howl easily shift from genre to genre throughout Good Man’s Ruin. From the blues to country to folk to good ol’ rock and roll, the band covers a lot of ground in these thirteen tracks and there’s not an element that sounds out of place. Even Cruz’s vocals, which are admittedly quieter than what most fans might be used to, are spot on in their new territory, and his delivery carries an intensity that adds just the right amount of punk to the band’s take on Americana.
In an era when it’s common for the lead singer of a punk band to go solo, it’s easy for fans to tire of the seemingly endless sea of side projects and to wind up just tuning them all out. You really shouldn’t ignore Jason Cruz and Howl though. Good Man’s Ruin is a solid debut, and deserves to be listened to. Despite what the band name suggests, this isn’t just some acoustic project formed solely to play the Revival Tour*. Jason Cruz and Howl is a full blown band doing their own thing, and it just so happens that the members also play in punk bands.
*That said… Chuck, if you’re reading this you should still at least ask Jason if he’d like to go on the next edition of the tour. It couldn’t hurt.
4 / 5 – Stream it here!
RIYL: Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves, Social Distortion, X