In 2007, the Crux were the golden sons and daughters of the Boogie Room and Gardens, born during a brief experiment in 21st-century creative utopia on a semi-rural Santa Rosa plot of land. They played rousing Gypsy-punk in dimly lit barns, singing whiskey-fueled songs of storms, Marlene Dietrich's "copper groin" and the endgames of capitalism.
"The Crux and the Boogie Room were joined at the hip," says Joshua Windmiller, the band's lead songwriter and guitarist. Windmiller (née Stithem) has a boundless energy—he also organizes the North Bay Hootenanny series—but the 2009 exit of partner-in-arms Tim Dixon from the Crux knocked him off course and led to thoughts of ending the band.
Yet the project had an energy of its own. The band had already begun recording the songs that for a second album, Be Merry, released this week. Recorded at houses rather than studios, the record took almost two years to complete, Windmiller says.
"The growth of this album has gone at the same pace for me to figure out what the Crux is without Tim and without the Boogie Room," says Windmiller. "But it's starting to make sense."
Now the band includes "Jack-of-All-Trades" Justin Walters, Jack Sawatsky on bass and vocals and Kalei Yamanoha on banjo, accordion and cello. Former drummer Adam LaBelle will play at the March 18 record-release party at the Arlene Francis Center. "Every member knows they can come back at any time," says Windmiller.
Be Merry brims with all the barn-scorching, rabble-rousing the Crux is known for; these are bastard Gypsy tunes from a country that's neither here nor there. On the album's final track, "Phaedrus," the repeated refrain, "Now you're six feet underground," takes on a special poignancy after the death of Crux fiddler and good friend Dominic Ziegler.
Ziegler's death brought all of the old members together for a memorial performance in February, an event that Windmiller recounts with joy. But might the album title Be Merry seem slightly ironic in light of recent events? Windmiller admits that though the title is "pretty loaded," in the end it's perfect for those who knew Ziegler the best.
"At the celebration of his life, there was lots of music and dancing, and these Scottish fiddlers showed up," he explains. "Suddenly, the title took on more meaning for me. Adam and I decided to use a picture of Dominic on the cover, full of motion. Juxtaposed with the words 'Be Merry,' it really sums up the forward-looking feeling that I think Dominic would want us to have."
The Crux celebrate the release of 'Be Merry' with Hot Club Beelzebub on Saturday, March 17, at the Arlene Francis Center. 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $7–$15. 5pm. 707.528.3009.