The Crossing Crew – River Radio – EP Review
Well now…someone has been busy, haven’t they?
Some folks have the advantage of a great band name…sometimes it’s a song title or two…sometimes it’s just all-out unforgettable music that makes you remember them…sometimes it really hasn’t been all that long since you last heard something, and it’s still fresh in your mind. The Crossing Crew kind of has all of that working in their favor…it really wasn’t all that long ago that I reviewed the record Love Is Like That by this James Paul Moravec-led collaborative…in fact, it’s actually be two full years ago as of this coming July, believe it or not.
Technically, I was already late to that party – Love Is Like That had come out the year before, back in 2018. I gotta say, with two years in between, and the new record River Radio having come out this year, I was stoked to be at the forefront, on the cutting edge, and completely up to-date, riding high on the wave of the latest coming out from The Crossing Crew. Me! I’m always behind in some way, shape, or form! Can you believe I was right there for the newest music by The Crossing Crew and that I haven’t missed a beat in between that last time & now? It’s such a rare thing for me to be ahead, that I can’t even begin to expl…
…I’m sorry – what’s that? I’m miles behind? Like…way further than I thought? The Crossing Crew put out another HOW MANY records in between my last review & now? FIVE? As in, River Radio is the SIXTH since I last checked in? And the EIGHTH record put out over the course of the past THREE years?
Well that seems more like me after all. I mean…it’s not like y’all don’t know I’ve been listening – I’m here doin’ this music thing each and every day…the fact that a band as high a caliber as The Crossing Crew can sneak in another five sets worth of songs in between the last time I checked in on’em is a true testament to just how relentlessly creative James is I’m sure, but also to our incredible independent scene in general – there’s that much music out there in this world folks, believe it. All kidding aside – you know I’m pretty up on my stuff…it’s inspiring to me when I stumble upon entire catalogs of tunes by bands I love have been re-upped & restocked; not only does it give me a whole bunch of new music to listen to, but it also reveals how a band like The Crossing Crew has been genuinely thriving this whole time. Awesome to see how much music this band has been putting out there into this world we share.
The Crossing Crew – “Modern, Retro, Vintage, – who cares” – I gotta say, I’m loving this description that came along with this record, and of course, I couldn’t agree more. We tend to get caught up way too much in what we do or what we don’t sound like – James included – and the reality is, when you’ve been at it as long as he has been so far, with something like fourteen records under his belt in The Crossing Crew over the past six years alone – if you haven’t figured that out 100% yet, there’s a reason. I could force in some comparisons here in this review, and I’m sure I will for some added fun along the way – but just like pretty much everyone else that’s tried in the past, I’ll scratch the surface, I’ll reveal a piece of the puzzle but not the full picture, I’ll give ya a snapshot of what The Crossing Crew does – but obviously…yes obviously…it would be impossible to put a hybrid style into a single box. Who wants to spend their time tracking down one possibly somewhat relevant name in comparison to something that’s already been done when not having that instant name come to mind says so very much more? We should crave originality and be more than enthusiastic about blazing our own trails, you follow me? Forget the labels, forget the comparisons…go where the music takes you, keep your head down, do the work, and immerse yourself in the craft of doing what you love…honestly, the rest is completely noise.
Because I could tell ya that “A Simple Word” is like a fusion between Modest Mouse and Band Of Horses once you reach its main hooks – but I ain’t gonna lie to ya…not sure that’s gonna help anyone out there in the assessment of The Crossing Crew’s overall sound, which flexes this way & that way throughout the journey of each record, and River Radio certainly included in that. For this song, it’s a description that works…and I’d honestly be shocked if either actually played any kind of role in influencing the music of The Crossing Crew to begin with…I’d be much more willing to bet that any comparisons we might hear at all, would come by about as honestly & purely as can be found in music – as in, quite likely, completely unintentional. Comparisons are arbitrary & fickle things – the reason why people’s opinions of what The Crossing Crew sounds like are so scattered & all over the map is a direct reflection of how much is involved in the music and the different dimensions of sonic depth they have…and again, I maintain – ain’t that a great thing? So I’ll tell ya what I know for sure…and that’s the fact that The Crossing Crew has stumbled into absolutely remarkable hooks on “A Simple Word” – full-stop. Honestly, I could never get enough of this song…and it’d be a whole lot easier to detail what I didn’t like…because there ain’t nothing on that list. There are so many things going right here, it’s almost impossible to count. First of all, the main title & hooks of the chorus are straight-up perfection…”it all began with a simple word” rolls out so crystal clear, confident, and cool…I mean, it’s just an undeniable hook in every conceivable sense of its definition. Then you factor in the brilliance of how the backing vocals work…or the stunning sound of the violin when it shows up…or how the verses reveal just as much hook & pull as the chorus does really – I mean, it’s an entire smorgasbord of can’t-lose! Not a doubt in my mind that “A Simple Word” ended up impressing me so much that I’d easily call it one of the best openings to a record I’ve heard this year. I’ve had this song stuck proudly in my head for days since I first heard it…and I’m looking forward to many more; I might argue there’s more accessibility in a few other tunes on this record perhaps, but in terms of my own personal taste & what I’d consider to be the record’s most addictive uniqueness, this is #1!
So case in-point…”Gold Mine” doesn’t remind me much of Modest Mouse of Band Of Horses at all. Not to drone on here, but for the majority of folks out there that likely still don’t even know who either of those bands even are – that’s the reality as well; a comparison like that can pigeonhole potential and where music can travel, just as much as it can entice people in that fully understand it. The degree of accessibility on this second tune wouldn’t benefit from that first reference to how “A Simple Word” sounded…completely different vibes, 100%. So James…don’t get me wrong brother, I hear ya – we all wanna know who we sound like to a degree – but c’mon my man…embrace the versatility of your sound & try to listen to it all from the perspective of someone outside of the band…you’re rockin’ hybrid music. LISTEN to the incredible piano/guitar solo in this tune will ya? Amazing! LISTEN to how spot-on James is in the way he sings “Gold Mine” and how welcoming this entire vibe is! While I might personally connect with a song like “A Simple Word” a bit more myself – universal sound is exactly that, and that’s exactly what “Gold Mine” has in every spectacularly sweet nugget of this song offered up along the way. All-around, every moment of this cut beams out single-worthy sound…and were I The Crossing Crew, I’d definitely be taking a long look at this very track in terms of promoting the album to the masses out there. It’s inviting, it’s welcoming, it’s audibly dripping with sweetness that heads straight for your heartstrings…all-in-all, there’s a brightness & inspired spark to its melody that’s guaranteed to please.
“Rubble Trouble” is all kinds of fun and stylistically slick as it gets. Slidin’ guitars roam wildly throughout this cut…creating a kind of Black Keys-meets-Folk/Blues/Bluegrass vibe…this third cut speaks to the versatility of The Crossing Crew’s sound & exactly why it’s so hard to pin this one band to any one comparison. The amount of personality & character to be found in the music & vocals of this tune could fill a whole entire record on its own. When it comes right down to it, there’s an argument to be made that “Rubble Trouble” is the largest departure you’ll find from the general sound, style, and approach that you’ll find The Crossing Crew takes to the lineup of songs on River Radio – but I’d probably be surprised to learn this wasn’t somehow a major fan-favorite, which I’m quite certain it will be. As much as I love the flash & dazzle of this Blues/Rock cut and the way it moves & grooves with such fluidity – it was probably the breakdown & bridge that occurs heading into the second minute that was worth the full price of admission for me. In any event…The Crossing Crew from what I’ve gathered has not toured or even played live to this point in time…and if anything, it’s vibes like the ones being created here with the electric energy on “Rubble Trouble” that are bound to encourage this band to change all that soon. Songs like “Rubble Trouble” would take on an entirely second-life onstage, I can promise ya that – there’s all the ingredients for a genuine show-stopper in the flash & flair of this tune, and the opportunity to bust out a whole lot of impressive instrumentation that’ll get the crowd goin’ crazy. Have a listen for yourself, and try to tell me you can’t feel that…you know this would set the people off in all the right ways…”Rubble Trouble” is built & designed to entertain, and it wildly succeeds for sure.
So don’t get me wrong – I’m all about “Rubble Trouble” and I’m always up for a solid jam with energy – I just happen to relate to melody that much more. So for me, the switch back into sweeter sound that occurs in the transition between the end of “Rubble Trouble” and the ultra-friendly vibes of “Country Life” right after, made one of the most noticeable points on the record that always caught my attention. “Big country, wide spaces, open hearts, smiling faces” – all these fantastic things, and ultimately Country Life is actually much more about staying home inside with the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. It’s about how those that have truly found love in this world don’t need to travel a square inch in order to find happiness – it’s right there beside them every day, no matter where they go. It’s about how all these amazing things are out there in our world, but that the most amazing of all, is right there at home, day after day. “Country Life” is really the ultimate love song if you’re listening to it closely. Not entirely sure what it was production-wise on this cut that was different than the rest…there was nothing so detrimental whatsoever that would turn me off, but it felt like you could hear the crush on the drums a bit more in the compression or something a lil’ strange here the more I listened close-up. At a distance, there ain’t nothing but pure sweetness on display and a natural vibe that’s perfectly suited for “Country Life” – it’s a tributary tune that salutes what the good life is REALLY all about if you ask me. I’d never knock those out there with the travel bug – and I get it myself from time to time like anyone does…but I’d be lyin’ to y’all by omission if I didn’t say I completely connected to the core sentiment of this song almost unlike any other I can recall. This is a love song for the curmudgeons out there that are able to see the beauty right there in front of their eyes and appreciate every moment of their time spent shared with that special someone. Call me crazy – I might not live on a farm, but I feel “Country Life” speaks to me in ways so many love songs never will…there’s so much authenticity in this perspective and in the songwriting here…James has written a genuinely insightful tune that gets to the heart of love.
I felt like I was more tossed up around “Bright Lights” than I was with any other track on this EP…but I’d still be the first to tell ya it’s essentially a flawless tune. Part of me felt like this one might have gotten too sweet for my own personal taste…a bit too Kumbaya at its core in the hooks perhaps…but at the same time, I kept sitting back here marveling at just how perfectly played & well produced the entire song was, and how much this inherently inviting vibe could be completely appealing to listening ears. There’s no doubt that at a first glance, this song belongs more to the cohesiveness of this record than say, a track like “Rubble Trouble” would in theory, in terms of its gentle sound & style…but I dunno – there was something about “Bright Lights” that had me going back & forth each time I heard it, trying to figure out what my ultimate assessment really was. Lyrically, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s one of the best on the record…or at the very least, some very relevant insights on what life is like out there for so many right now, while at the same time, reminding us of what’s really important. There’s a lot more of a down-home folksy vibe at work here overall…I can’t guarantee it’s always going to be something everyone would wanna reach for all the time, but it’s also the kind of cut you’ll know exactly when you do wanna hear it, when you’re in the mood for something as shiny as this is, and it’ll be there for ya ready to roll & deliver that for ya, any time you need it. I’ll put it to you this way…as much as I might have tried to resist this cut myself, the sweetness of the sentiment and the hooks really do connect sincerely…and I have no doubt “Bright Lights” will be a song I’ll recall in my mind for many years to come. One way or the other, that always tells ya there’s verifiable strengths to be found in the songwriting and hooks that are gonna make an impact…you’ll remember “Bright Lights” the very next time you hear it, like you’ve almost somehow been listening to it the entire time in between.
“The River” is spectacular…and in my opinion, one of the record’s strongest cuts. I’m not 100% sure it gets its full due credit on those first spins…that might be a bit more up in the air & different from person to person. I think there’s so much appeal loaded up at the front of this record that tracks like “A Simple Word” and “Gold Mine” are probably gonna steal the show for some time – but it’s songs like “The River” that have all the hallmarks of a song that’s gonna hold up strong over the years and keep us coming back to listen to River Radio. I love the tone of voice that James sings with and the inherent wisdom that feels built right into his words…I love the sparkle of the guitars, the stunning tones in the solo, and the brilliance of both the backing vocals & melody of the piano…there’s a whole lot of depth to “The River” that feels like it’s an experience you’ll still be uncovering something new about for years to come. I’m all about it on every level really…I think the lyrics are some of the best on the record, I felt like the imagery of the words was stunningly vivid, real, and perfectly detailed…and the added hooks from the falsetto voice of James going “whoo whoo whoo” or “sweet Jesus gonna” along the way were the audible cherry on top for me. “The River” is a highly impressive song all-around, no matter which point you choose to examine it from – and in terms of the inherently versatile hybrid vibes of The Crossing Crew and the music being made in this band, it’s an authentic stand-out for its artistic design. It’s got a lower-key energy to it in some respects…but I’d be surprised if “The River” didn’t end up becoming a major favorite for the listeners out there over time…it’s as interesting as it is entertaining.
As you’ve experienced throughout River Radio, The Crossing Crew have subtly put a strong point of view into much of this material you’ve heard at times – and they bring it home solidly with the gentle & warm conclusion on the new album in “Get A Crown.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the current political climate has definitely been in Moravec’s thoughts in a few of these tunes…and as divisive as they’ve been as of late between so many of us, he’s made sure to keep his focus sharply on bringing everyone closer together through the music he’s making in The Crossing Crew. “Get A Crown” is willing to acknowledge a lot of what’s not working in the way we interact in society & how we treat each other – and if anything, you could probably make a strong argument that James is taking on the attitude of entitlement quite directly here. There’s always a highly interpretive quality to a lot of the way he writes his lyrics…different things will mean different things to different people, you dig? To me, this was all an indictment of what’s become a prevalent selfish perspective emerging in our world, where everyone is talking & no one’s really listening…a world where everyone probably deserves ashes, but believes they should “Get A Crown,” to paraphrase James. More importantly than perhaps anything else, he’s bringing attention & awareness to a pattern of thinking that every single one of us have the ability to control…we can choose to let the world break us apart, or we can let it strengthen our resolve to make change for the better. The greater good of us all, as one…not just to the benefit of our individual selves. Gently drifting us out of this experience with River Radio with an infusion of dreamy vocals and vibes that are almost like a modern-day nursery rhyme for adults, or an audible fable with morals & melody that’ll resonate within your heart – “Get A Crown” gives you a stellar mix of thought-provoking lyricism and emotional sound that gives River Radio a remarkable conclusion to a complete experience. From the versatility on display throughout the set-list, to each individual song revealing a compelling new dimension of The Crossing Crew’s sound – River Radio is a journey well worth taking, for one and all.
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