leaving a beast caged

Sunny Day (Questar Mission Records)
John Cox

By Robert Gruber

Upon first listen to John Cox's debut album, Sunny Day, what grabs you right away is the Voice. Very strong, very sure, a shrill, yet smooth slice through the cerebellum to the soul. Passionate, but with a hint of attitude. Imagine a more restrained Jeff Buckley, a young Larry Norman, and a nod toward Robert Plant and Alanis Morrisette all in one voice. That's John Cox.

The first song, "Sunny Day," sets you up for an awesome ride -- a moody, acoustic meditation that kicks in with a thick, plodding bassline, cool wah-wah riffs snaking all through it, leading to a smoking, fuzzed-out lead. This is the classic rock tension/restraint mode, slightly menacing, a caged beast of song.

The rest of the album seems tame by comparison. Oh, it sounds good, finely crafted and produced by David Kershenbaum. Cox's uncluttered lyrical approach is bracing in its honesty, especially on songs like "Hand I Hold" and the convicting single, "Heaven Hears You." Musically, this is rootsy-type rock, a little funky, somewhere between Mellencamp and Counting Crows (thankfully, with none of that Hammond B-3 organ crap, just guitars, guitars, guitars!). Good road music, you might say. And of course, there's the Voice, which would make this a great album even if Cox was singing grocery lists for songs.

Still, it seems the beast of the title track just stays in the cage on Sunny Day. Maybe it comes out in the live show. Maybe he'll let it out on the next album. All I know is, I wanna be there when it strikes.