Jason Cruz And Howl

Good Man's Ruin

Some things that are good: the vocals of skate-punkers Strung Out's Jason Cruz; the feel of California; Mexican mysteries. So it's no surprise that this solo debut from Cruz, which combines all of the above, is music to our ears. But we were worried it wouldn't be. See, lots of people seem to be talking this one up as if it's just another punk rocker releasing a mellow Americana album, or as if it's soundtrack music. But let's be totally honest: Those things kinda suck; this doesn't. "Loraine" combines Cruz's excellent voice with some haunting alt-country, but Cruz manages to salvages what could be hokey or eye-rolling with his always-present sincerity. The vocal phrasings on some cuts certainly bring to mind his day job, but there's never the intensity or pure punk volume of Strung Out. Elsewhere, there's tinges of urban rockabilly and chilled-out reggae, but it never gets cutesy or cloying. It all works, and all adds to the atmosphere.

"Mescallana" embodies what makes this album so cool: it's melancholy music that brings to mind the desert, the sun-baked delirium that brings about bad decisions, and the pure artistry that fuels the best music, regardless of genre. It ain't no novelty Spaghetti Western joke tune. "Reno" displays a tossed-off party vibe (albeit a very cleverly written one) but "The Lonesome Grave Of Celia Browne" and the amazing closer "The Leaving Kind" take any amount of here-today-gone-tomorrow alt-anything artists and show them what sincerity with a cinematic edge really sounds like. Good Man's Ruin is a fun and enjoyable look into the mind of a man who has transcended beyond skate-punk-vocalist-guy (Strung Out's progression over the years has also made that pretty obvious) and gone into the realm of artist.

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