August 25, 2021

The Cruzados Are Anything but Automatic


Back in the mid 1980s, a group of artists mixed new wave and punk with country, blues, and folk styles to create a genre called roots rock revival. For a short while, 80s style roots rock revival was a fixture on college and alternative charts. Groups like The Beat Farmers, The Long Ryders, The Blasters, Los Lobos, and Lone Justice updated American music to fit 80s sensibilities. Unfortunately, the furnace of roots rock revival cooled. It was overshadowed by the emerging grunge artists while retro and roots enthusiasts jumped into the short-lived Big Band revival and the ongoing rockabilly scene. Of the major roots rock revival bands of the 80s, only Los Lobos, Dave Alvin of the Blasters, and John Doe of X have continued to carry the torch of 80s roots rock revival.

The Cruzados was one of the roots rock revival bands of that era that should have a huge band. They had the pedigree, including members from the punk band The Plugz. They toured with big acts including Fleetwood Mac. The songs from their first two albums, The Cruzados (1985) and After Dark (1987), were excellent. They were even seen in the Patrick Swayze cult favorite, Roadhouse, playing as the house band in the eponymous roadhouse bar. It was all there. Somehow, they just didn’t reach the tipping point and the fickle finger of fate pointed in a different direction for the music world. The Cruzados broke up and the musicians went in other directions.

The music industry is much different now than in 1987. No longer are there a only few trends or styles in play. Streaming music and social media have made it possible to go from a plate with a few items on it to a buffet filled with the wonderful and exotic. That’s what makes the new Cruzados album, She’s Automatic, so timely. This is the album they could never have made in the 1990s but should have been.

She’s Automatic is just jam backed with swampy rock, southern blues, country, and rock. Lots of rock. It’s what would happen if ZZ Top and the Allman brothers merged with alternative rock. This is most apparent on the songs, “She’s Automatic” and “Nine Million Tears”. “She’s Automatic” is driven by a huge Bo Diddly like riff reminiscent of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (2003) but paired with The Allman Brothers. This blues and rock combination gives the song a White Stripes sound only more grit. “Nine Million Tears”, on the other hand, rocks like The Cult-Jimmy Vaughn pair up that never was. Despite all the roots rock revival elements, She’s Automatic plays like modern rock. Perhaps modern rock has circled back to where it was in the late 80s or maybe things never really change as much as we think they do. One thing is sure though; the defining quality of this album is that it’s retro but modern and that what makes it special.

This southern blues plus rock sound permeates the album but there are a number of side trips into country and rockabilly. This keeps the album focused as opposed to tedious. With this much power rock and blues, it would be impossible to find this album unexciting unless you were already dead. Even then, you might dance in your grave. “Sad Sadie”, a country waltz, and the honky tonk “Let Me Down” divert into americana territory without losing any of the rock energy that drives this album forward. That’s what She’s Automatic is all about – powerful and exciting new music with its feet firmly rooted in classic American styles.

The Cruzados are back with a vengeance. She’s Automatic is just kind of album you want to play in your car while driving too fast down a highway with the top down. Play it loud. It should be played loud. While it’s regrettable that we had to wait 34 years for this Cruzados album, it was worth the wait. Hopefully, it won’t be all that long before we get the next one.