Full Album Reviews

Old Songs for Modern Folk (2016)

Ireland-born, Australia-raised, New York City-based singer-songwriter Vincent Cross revives a couple of traditional forms on Old Songs for Modern Folk. One is the folksong tradition itself, the other the 1960s revival composer who would sing new songs about modern life in an antique voice. As one listens, it is just about impossible not to think of the early Bob Dylan, especially Freewheelin’ and The Times They Are A-Changin’, both heavily informed by Woody Guthrie and all who’d come before him but with an unmistakable later-20th century sensibility.

Old Songs is a bare-bones recording, just Cross and whatever he’s playing, either a banjo or a guitar. The lyrics and melodies bloom, as they did with Guthrie and Dylan, from older soil. The recording opens with “Darlin’ Corey” transformed convincingly into “Freeport Town.” There is, to put it mildly, no histrionics or exhibitionism. Never raising his voice, Cross just sort of loses himself in straightforward narrative backed by pleasing but un-fancy picking.

It may take a second, focused listening before some listeners grasp just how good this is. Even in this cultural moment, as folk music has returned from exile to critical acceptance (a process that started first with Greil Marcus’s 1997 book Invisible Republic, later retitled The Old, Weird America, soon reinforced by the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and brought with it a fresh generation of talented artists, one is likely to be surprised at the appearance of a young musician so comfortable and so in command of a particular approach shaped decades ago. Though the Dylan parallels never quite go away, they do fade into the background as one hears Cross’s strong and moving performances, laid down without overdubbing and other studio gadgetry.

In 1928, borrowing the melody of the outlaw ballad “Railroad Bill,” Mississippi John Hurt recorded “Louis Collins” to recall a local murder. From Hurt’s materials, Cross fashions “Michael Brown,” about the victim of the notorious police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, changing remarkably few of the lyrics. From Hurt’s “Richland Woman Blues,” Cross attaches an irresistible melody to “Zora’s Blues,” an apparent reference to the celebrated African-American writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) who helped document African-American vernacular song in the South: I’m going down that long dirty road/ Looking for the blues that everybody knows/ You can hum along and let the cadence fall/ It soothes the pain that’s felt by all.

”Alone” spins out of the oldtime Appalachian “Dark Holler,” while “The Ballad of Roosevelt Avenue” imagines an immigrant’s tragic fate, to the tune of another bloody ballad, “Omie Wise,” from the early 19th century. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. “As the Crow Flies” piles cliche atop cliche to witty effect. (Actually, nobody does this more hilariously than John Prine; when Dylan does it, the resorting to hackneyed phrases just seems lazy.) “Going Down the Road” is barely changed from the well-traveled original, but is pure delight anyway.

I’d take Vincent Cross over any number of rootless, clueless, self-absorbed singer-songwriters who litter the landscape these days. If we’re lucky, we’ll be hearing a lot more of him. Old Songs for Modern Folk will enhance the quality of your CD collection. In fact, it seems miraculously to improve the more you listen to it. Take my word for it: you shouldn’t miss this one.
— Jerome Clark, Ramblers. NET
I love folk music. Raw, honest, impassioned: railing against the system and injustices, documenting the trials, trails and travails of the voiceless, the downtrodden—the raising of voices in harmony, joy, and celebration, marking the events tying us to each other. There is nothing like folk music.

Vincent Cross’ new album Old Songs for Modern Folk ticks all my boxes. Ancient melodies revitalized to contemporary circumstances mixing with original thoughts, comments, and approaches, all folded together into an unadorned mix of guitar and voice with banjo on a couple numbers. Beautiful.

Never heard of Vincent Cross? Me neither. We need to fix that.

Based in NYC, Cross comes to us via Australia from Ireland. No indie-rock wannabe disguising himself as a folk-singer, Cross seems to come by his folk affliction naturally. Imagine him in a corner of your living room, singing “Alone,” his original that borrows a wee bit from “Dark Hollow”/”East Virginia Blues,” you and yours imbibing in whatever bitter brew available—and you make that connection: you haven’t lived the words, but you are familiar with the conviction—your life and an empty dram have way too much in common.

That’s the power of folk music, even if it only hits you for a moment or three it impacts you, and you take a different path.

Old Songs for Modern Folk is full of those moments. “Michael Brown,” based on “Louis Collins” is a tale we know too well, one that will likely continue to play out in our cities this summer: different name, same situation. Without being obvious, “Garments of Shame” exposes the Bangladesh garment factory collapse as a product of the western world’s desire for cheap clothing. “Zora’s Blues” and “Going Down that Road” complement each other although they are very different songs: tempered by loss and perhaps missed opportunity, strength emerges.

Each listener will find their own way into this very appealing album. Maybe it will be “Ode to an Old Guitar,” one where the “deep cracks beneath the surface veneer are the wounds of the sorrows that you hear.” Perhaps, “As the Crow Flies” a set of songwriting clichés combined to create something quite endearing. Or, “The Ballad of Roosevelt Avenue” which could be a lost TVZ lyric found scribbled on the back of a takeout menu.

I love this album. You might, too. Vincent Cross, Old Songs for Modern Folk. Take a chance for a change, like you used to when browsing the record store.
— Fervor Coulee- Roots Music, Canada
The third album by this “New York City-based rustic folk singer and songwriter” is a true solo record, with each song recorded straight-to-tape with no editing, overdubbing or enhancement. Expertly accompanying himself on guitar or banjo, with a few harmonica riffs, Vincent Cross chronicles modern life in the timeless American troubadour style.

Like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie before him, Cross re-purposes the structures and themes of traditional songs to create highly resonant new ones. Freeport Town and Going Down That Road are re-writes of Darling Cory and er, Going Down That Road, while Michael Brown is adapted from Missis- sippi John Hurt’s Louis Collins, and Alone utilises the familiar lyric “I’d rather be in some dark holler where the sun refuse to shine.”

“Though hope it springs eternal, in life there’s tragedy” Cross sings on The Ballad of Roosevelt Avenue. That song, and Garments Of Shame are powerful narrative ballads of real-life events, while the artist acknowledges the folk singer’s function in Ode To An Old Guitar.

Vincent Cross is a really fine singer and songwriter and this is a strong, steadfast album.
— Steve Hunt: fRoots Magazine-UK
(Translated from Dutch) They keep popping up, the singers / musicians you never heard about before. This time it’s the turn of Vincent Cross, a man stood whose cradle in Dublin, Ireland, but which operates today from New York after he spent his early years in Australia and later in his teens, Europe traveled in the company of his guitar and his harmonica. On this new, third album, he will, in the style of the great examples as Woody Guthrie, eleven new songs in a folk classic jacket which I mean, man, voice, guitar or banjo and harmonica. Nothing studio no truck, no overdub anything, just “what you hear is what you get”.

That is a style, a form, which to some may seem a little corny, but I note that he makes back more and more rising. I myself am much older old man as anything but unfortunate, and so it was fully enjoy for me, every time I put the CD in place. Vincent wrote, as already mentioned, everything himself, though he took the opener “Freeport Town” inspired by the traditional “Darling Corey” that we all know in a hurry in the version of the Kingston Trio, but in fact much older is. For “Michael Brown” played Vincent borrows from “Louis Collins” Mississippi John Hurt and “Going Down That Road” is a traditional barely a few years ago, new life was breathed by Eric Bibb.

All the other songs are of your own making, and fit perfectly into the street. That is a slightly different path than the one Vincent walked on his previous two albums: there he was more in bluegrass direction while this time for the “pure” folk was chosen. That provides a spacious half an hour very clever music and especially singing: the voice of Vincent lends itself to this genre and I took the acid test by combining this plate with older work Derroll Adams. It works perfectly, if only because the themes that Vincent broaches, seamlessly connect with the things that were sung by the forerunners. There is, for example, the migration problem in “ The Ballad of Roosevelt Avenue,” is how bosses treat their employees (continue) to” Garments of Shame “.The absolute highlight , however -for me anyway- the already mentioned “Michael Brown,” which , as you can expect if you are a bit following the news, about police brutality in Ferguson , two years ago.This is folk music at its best: The news is sung and rulers being sued to the tune of an ancient melody. That is the essence of folk music: the melodies are passed from generation to generation and provided with current texts. It Vincent motto con brio and for me -I have previously never succeeds what heard- of him, this is therefore an entrance along the Very Large Gate . I think this guy is a keeper in the genre before, he has everything , from voice to guitar , but above all he is real and authentic. Welcome, Vincent !
— Dani Heyvaert- www.rootstime.be


A Town Called Normal (2013)

I am not really sure how to classify Vincent Cross’s music. It has definite bluegrass roots in its instrumentation, but also hints of folk and country. Perhaps, “new-grass” is a better term when attempting to narrow it down. His vocal has a mild twang, that isn’t overbearing and suits the music very well. In my head, I hear nuances of Robert Earl Keen mixed with a bit of Bob Dylan (but perhaps, it’s just being a roots/folk artist that does that) and a touch of Michael Daves high and lonesome on the top. The songs are driven by strong chorus lines with nice hooks, lending them to be crowd pleasers simply after hearing one choral run through.

“Turn Your Eyes” is one of my favorites from the album. It kicks in pretty upbeat and hard with the chorus right off the bat and eases into the verse, to be brought back up again. I really like the flow of up and down that the song brings and the instrumentation is excellent. A nice banjo line, smooth and typical bluegrass guitar, a hint of mandolin chop, and a strong rhythm thump from the upright bass. This tune brings me to summer bluegrass festivals, people dancing out on the grass and just having a good old time. The lyrics are good and strong, easy to hang on to. Cross is able to address and almost hide a somewhat solemn theme within a buoyant and upbeat vessel, a feat that is certainly respectable.

Turn your eyes from the burning sun / she’s not what your looking for
she’s just brazen just for fun / you know that it’s not enough

It’s nice to see someone who appreciates the traditional songs of folk and bluegrass as represented in the inclusion of “The Cuckoo” on this record (though there is dispute on whether its origins are English or American). The songs is very banjo driven with some nice frails and picking throughout the track. It also has a nice breakdown/jam section at the end of the tune that really excites me to hear. A lot of the players in the Americana genre these days have hopped up on the bandwagon without paying homage and respect to what came before them. It is obvious through Cross’s writing style and arrangement choices, that the past is not lost on him.
As a complete work, the instrumentation on this album is impeccable. I may be a bit bias, as its exactly what I love to listen to regardless, but you cannot deny that all the playing is solid and the mix is great. It has hints of the old roots tunes of American, backporch pickin’, but perhaps a bit more contemporary in its presentation. Simply put, it just works. All backed by Cross’s songwriting and powerful and unique vocal, it makes for a great listen and strengthens my belief that roots music is still alive and well in the Northeast.
Songwriter Vincent Cross was a mainstay of the late, lamented Banjo Jim’s Americana music scene, but he’s hardly been idle since that club shut its doors. His previous album Home Away from Home was a pretty straight-up, purist bluegrass collection; his new one A Town Called Normal is a lot more eclectic, a mix of rustic acoustic Americana with a bit of folk-rock and traditional sounds from across the pond. Most of the album is streaming at various places, including Cross’ site and his myspace page. Cross sings with an unaffected, easygoing twang, plays guitars, mandolin and harmonica and has an excellent band behind him, incorporating the talents of various combinations of Bennett Sullivan and Doug Nicolaisen on banjos; Max Johnson, Allen Cohen and Larry Cook on bass; Mark Farrell on mandolin and Shane Kerwin on drums on a few tracks.

Several of the songs sound like they could be Appalachian standards…except that they’re originals. One of the richest sounding of these is Cursed, with its lusciously intermingled layers of banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar. Cross has a way with aphoristic oldtime vernacular: “How can we distinguish the evil from the good? The chorus always should,” he observes on the title cut. Likewise, the metaphorically-charged cautionary tale Turn Your Eyes: “Warning bells from the mizzzen mast, don’t go down with the crew and cast.” And Childish Things – a catchy, swinging bluegrass-tinged original, not the James McMurtry hit – muses that “nobody knows why the caged bird sings til you put away your childish things.”

My Love starts out quietly and then builds to a neat series of tradeoffs between Cross’ harmonica and nimble guitar flatpicking. Old Christmas Wrapping, a bittersweet waltz, goes into down-and-out Tom Waits territory, but less pessimistically. Walking on the Outside sounds suspiciously like an acoustic version of Son Volt’s Tearstained Eye, with a soulful dobro solo. Sometimes builds up to a brooding, hypnotic two-chord jam, while Trouble Being There evokes Matt Keating with its wry surrealism and gentle folk-rock melody.

There’s also Footnotes, a brooding polyrhythmic miniature; Wrack and Ruin, which takes a stab at honkytonk; and a nicely syncopated take of the traditional folk song Cuckoo, “who never hollers ‘cuckoo’ til the 4th day of July.” How’s that for symbolism? Cross is at the American Folk Art Museum
A good 90 percent of the indie albums we receive for review come from agents that have only indie clients. SoundStage! Network writers recommend about five to seven percent. Then about two to three percent come from the artists themselves. A Town Called Normal is one of the latter. That’s sort of ironic, because it sounds like it could have been recorded in West Virginia, where I live.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Vincent Cross is an Irishman born in Dublin, raised in Australia, and now residing in New York City. He has a super voice that sometimes reminds me of early acoustic Neil Young and other times Robert Earl Keen, with just enough twang to spike things up without becoming annoying. Cross can also produce a fine high-and-lonesome sound when he chooses.

The backup band contains banjos, and Cross himself switches from guitar to mandolin. That’s the right instrumentation for a bluegrass band, but then Cross throws in some folksy harmonica, and there are drums on three cuts. I think newgrass might be the best way to describe Cross’s music, which combines bluegrass, folk, folk rock, and other influences into a very satisfying whole.

All of the songs on the disc are originals except for “The Cuckoo,” which is traditional. Things get off to a good start with the title song, which is followed by the most bluegrass-like cut, “Cursed.” The latter sounds like it’s from Bill Monroe country, and it features antiphonal banjos to splendid effect. The rest of the album is more eclectic, but it all makes sense and is a very comfortable listen.

As happy as I am with Cross and his band, I’m less enthused about the recorded sound, which is warm to the point of being close to muddy. The banjos rise out of the soup, but the drums never do and the upright bass is not pointed enough. The bass is loud, though, so be careful at setting the volume when you start the first track.

I’m happy to have discovered Vincent Cross, and I have the artist himself to thank. He writes eclectic tunes with good hooks and surrounds himself with instrumentalists that are as good as he is. Cross is definitely worth a listen, and I’ll be interested in seeing what he comes up with next.

Be sure to listen to: The second chorus of “Turn Your Eyes” has bowed upright bass in unison with the vocal. It’s a sound I’d never heard before in such a rapidly developing song, but it’s quite effective.
Born in Dublin, raised in Australia and living in New York, Cross is a new name to me, although this is his third album and he also has two EPs to his credit. It certainly make me want to seek out the back catalogue. He’s been lauded by Odetta, which is understandable given he’s clearly rooted in the same 60s folk scene sounds that produced the likes of Seeger, Guthrie and Dylan, all of which are obvious influences here, although the title track extends the connection to conjure thoughts of the early Band albums.

Odetta said he reminded her of the mountain music that shaped her own sound, and you can certainly hear Appalachia and bluegrass roots in numbers such as the very nasally Guthriesque banjo and mandolin led Cursed, Childish Things (which references Maya Angelou’s poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings), the yee haw feel of My Love and a folk blues interpretation of the traditional tune Cuckoo that exits on a breakdown flurry. On the other hand, both the infectious poppy bounce of Turn Your Eyes and, once the tempo picks up, Trouble Being There fit more comfortably into the contemporary newgrass scene.

Elsewhere, he moves further from the genre, Footnotes is a brief polyrhythmic instrumental with flamenco hints, Silent Waltz’s mandolin accompanied tale of a lonesome barstool Christmas nods to early Tom Waits, Walking On The Outside skirts acoustic alt-country territory and Wrack and Ruin heads straight for the honky tonk to share a beer with George Jones while album closer, Sometimes, with its upright bass and brushed drums, reminds me of the softer melancholy of Paul Simon. He’s not offering anything new, but he’s definitely giving familiarity his own distinctive mark.
These days the term “Bluegrass” encompasses a broad range of musical expressions. From the down home, gutsy realism of first-generation entertainers like Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to the more refined sounds of Alison Krauss to the outer fringes of what is technically and musically possible and still retain some semblance of the core sound. It is indeed a broad genre that continues to give birth to new broods.

All that said, “A Town Called Normal,” in my opinion, does not fit into any honest, objective interpretation of Bluegrass music. Does it have a banjo on most cuts? Yes. Is there a mandolin? Sometimes. However, those characteristics alone do not a bluegrass band make.

There is a ton of music here, but not an ounce of genuine Bluegrass. There is absolutely no “drive,” no cohesive “bounce,” no emphasis on the downbeats. Even to the most liberal Bluegrass listener, the vocals have the wrong feel. There are drums on several cuts and that certain “tightness” we’ve come to expect from better Bluegrass groups never comes into focus…it never even comes into view.

These things are not necessarily bad, however. There is some good music here, as well as some excellent writing and Vincent Cross is a fantastic vocalist. He has a talent for choosing material that is well-suited for his vocal range and he knows how to sing with passion. Pieces like “Sometimes” seem like they could easily fit into a Pop/Folk Top 40 scenario. The overall feel on this project is like Bob Dylan meets Jimmy Buffet meets banjo, except Cross has a better voice than either one. It makes me wonder why he chose to use banjo, mandolin, acoustic bass, resonator-guitar, etc. as the instrumentation backdrop for this material. Personally, I’m thinking a string-orchestral sound with lots of bows creating the tension and mood would help establish a more rich presence, along with the gravitas and ambiance to properly accentuate his voice.

In fairness to the instrumentalists on the CD, they are more than competent and easily hold their own. The banjo player does some interesting work on several cuts. “Footnote” is one example that seems to drift into a flamenco influenced flourish only to end far too quickly. He also does some nice backup and fills on “Turn Your Eyes” and turns in a very tasteful break on “Walking on the Outside.”
“a town called normal” is the latest album by vincent cross as he journeys through jazz-influenced old-time ballads, downhome country blues, traditional bluegrass and indie-folk rock. he pulls back the curtain and reveals a lonely shell of a man. but if they made a drug that was this high, I’d never be sober. a stone cold winner.
(TRANSLATION) Honkvast you can call Vincent Cross difficult. Although his cradle was in Dublin, he grew up in Australia, in 2006 to move to New York. Cross saw America as the land where he could get his talent better to develop. Two years after his arrival in the land of Uncle Sam, this resulted already in the 12 track album ‘Home Away From Home “which earned him recognition in the bluegrass environment. ‘A Town Called Normal’, where he worked as a singer, the guitar, the mandolin and rarely takes up the harmonica, these together with the bass and banjo, the most common instruments. Again, you might expect again that, given the instruments used, this album sphere would be of bluegrass. And this is not the case. Chord bluegrass is still present, but Cross also delves deeper into the rich musical history of America. So down home country blues, folk, country and even a touch of old jazz, the newcomers to Vincent’s repertoire. On the title track as well as album opener Cross let all at once looking at his cards. The song starts quietly and Cross’ voice evokes memories of the young Dylan. You expect the song will end at this rhythm. But nothing is less true because suddenly Vincent gives a different twist to. The tempo is increased by a handsome banjotokkel. In the distance sounds a harmonica, and the song falls back into its calm fold. ‘Cursed’ the listener drifts rather than the direction of Bill Monroe bluegrass master, while just over one-minute instrumental ‘Footnotes’ in a jazz atmosphere bathes. On five songs the band is enhanced with drums, giving the music its way into the indie folk and indie rock.

Vincent Cross has a clear voice, perfect to put down the atmosphere that require his songs. Through the 11 original compositions also Cross proves himself as a songwriter. Beautiful melodies with strong choruses on “A Town Called Normal ‘clear his trademark.
(TRANSLATION) Vincent Cross is a songwriter from Ireland, who arrived in New York from Australia. He writes narrative songs he sings beautifully and wonderfully arranges, with traditional bluegrass instruments such as guitar, mandolin, bass and banjo. Still, the result does not sound like traditional bluegrass. This include the arrangements to be refined and varied to the songs of structure - Cross wants to exchange within a single song ever tempo or use more than two melodies. Sounds like he makes complex music, but that is certainly not the case, because the songs of Cross are accessible and enjoyable to listen to. All of which makes it even more fun is that he is what country, blues and jazz mixes with his arrangements.

The arrangements and the refined compositions, this album is what we call a growth plate. With every spin you’ll hear some more details, and the music is just another battle better and better. Just listen to the passionate My Love or the magnificent title track A Town Called Normal. It is on this album no weak song, though he may hesitate on the next album cover (this time Cuckoo) omit - I’d rather hear the songs of this phenomenal singer / songwriter.
(TRANSLATION) Born in Dublin, Ireland, grew up in Australia and now a resident of the city of New York. Vincent Cross is his name. Acoustic guitar, mandolin harmonica player and singer-songwriter acoustic country-folk songs. With two albums to his name is A Town Called Normal the first I’m hearing. The in-house recorded album was published in 2013. Some time was brought back by himself the album at Real Roots Café attention. Good idea, the album contains namely Americana in its purest form. Small, fragile, poetic songs, composed of a mix of ouderwetse- and modern country-folk / bluegrass. All twelve songs hit but - somewhere half the plate - came and I remained in the grip of the beautiful godforsaken Trouble Being There. It is a short love song with a beautiful, compelling melody to frame the painfully honest lyrics about regret and remorse, impressive austere but powerful completed by acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass, banjo, lightly brush drums and Cross’ magnificent, melancholy voice. Rare intrusive, a great expressiveness and quality of the superlative. Using such strong superlatives about one song, it would do the other eleven almost too short, which would not be in place. The point is that it’s just one song is better than the other. All due to Cross’ songwriter art, which revolves around the triangle: simplicity, imagination and melodic form.

On the album, which the Moon studios, Staten Island was recorded, musicians collaborated on bass, drums, banjo and mandolin. The end result: beautiful songs, beautiful coloring, mighty fine performance. (Independent)
Praesent id libero id metus varius consectetur ac eget diam. Nulla felis nunc, consequat laoreet lacus id.
— Pablo



Home Away From Home (2008)

Ireland-born, New York City-based singer/song- writer Vincent Cross turned heads with his 2008 debut “Home Away From Home,” a fantastic collection of blue- grass tunes, and he expands his musical palette into Americana and folk on “A Town Called Normal.

Though Cross is not a household name, he should be. He shows it on this tasty gathering of 12 tunes. Keepers include the title track, the timeless “Cursed,” “Trouble Being There,” “Childish Things,” “Walking on the Outside” and “Wrack & Ruin.”
Highly recommended.
Vincent Cross has put together an eclectic mix of original songs on his album, “Home Away From Home,” a fitting title for this outstanding guitar and mandolin player. Cross, who hails from Ireland but makes his home in the New York City area, manages to sound like he is straight out of the Appalachian mountains.

The album gets off to a strong start with “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine,” an upbeat number
despite a typically-sad story of lost love. Throughout the album, Vincent Cross displays an innate skill with his vocal interpretation of a song. On the title cut, his voice is somewhat reminiscent of Chris Thile, while on “Grandma’s Home Brew” I think Cross sounds a bit like Bob Dylan. It seems Cross has the uncanny ability to sound like anyone he chooses, but, truly, Cross’ style is all his own.

This album is reflective of the true versatility of Cross’ musical prowess. Joining him on the album is Andy Cartoun, a well-respected banjo player in the New York area who does not disappoint in giving listeners the drive one looks for on a bluegrass album. Bruno Bruzzese is a virtuoso on the violin, coming from a background of a wide range of musical styles, most notably Middle Eastern music. His fiddle playing accurately portrays the emotion behind the song and his deftness on the instrument is prominent throughout this fine album. If you like the sound of the mountains, this album is for you.
Home Away From Home” is the recording debut for Vincent Cross (guitar, mandolin, and vocals) and his band Good Company. The dozen selections were penned by Vincent and carried off in a hard-driving bluegrass style. Some of the more interesting titles include “Sensitize, “ “Minus Love,” and “Out Of My Head.” For the first time out, “Home Away From Home” is a successful endeavor, and hopefully there will be other projects to follow.
“Solid bluegrass debut….He is blessed with a versatile voice which can ably evoke that high lonesome sound, whilst deepening its nuance for the more mellow numbers in which respect he is quite reminiscent of Tim O’Brien.”