Monday, April 16, 2007

Approaching The Crossing

The Crossing is Casey Stratton's official follow-up to 2005's DIVIDE - his first album since his split with Sony Music. It is a collection of brand new songs that were written between April of 2005 and May of 2006. For this release, he continues very much in the alternative pop/rock vein explored on DIVIDE and his major label release Standing at the Edge.

Introspective lyrics and quiet musical arrangements dominate the 14 tracks. The album, as a whole, is a much mellower affair than DIVIDE was. It opens with the gorgeous "Rising Sun" which Casey played live at several engagements prior to The Crossing's release. A grand ballad in the tradition of "The Hardest Part" (the first track on DIVIDE) Casey's soaring vocals and the intricate piano arrangements belie the fact that this CD is self-produced without all the amenities that a major label will provide. Other standouts include "There Lies The Answer" in which he writes "Underneath all the anger/There lies the answer" - a lesson that so many of us could stand to learn. The title track serves as the other bookend of the album - it's sure to become a staple of his live shows and it ends the album on a perfect note.

In spite of the large number of ballads, there are several midtempo tracks that serve to round out the album. "Projector" - with its strings and piano and, most importantly, C minor key signature was the immediate favorite when I started listening to the album. It is still my hands down favorite of all the tracks. "False Prophet" which is a not-so-thinly-veiled commentary on George W. Bush, features some of Casey's more pointed lyrics and best songwriting. Oddly, it serves as a good companion to Mary Chapin Carpenter's fabulous "On With The Song" which talks about similar issues. "The Window Will Close" features a hook that is vaguely reminiscent of an Erasure track that I can't place. And the song being serviced to college radio, "You Showed Me Again", is the strong centerpiece of the album and shows that there may be some hope for alternative pop music yet.

While the album overall is a strong outing, that's not to say there aren't a few missteps. "Cruel Hand of Fate" starts out promising, but ultimately the chorus doesn't have the hook it needs. "Final Stage" clocking it at nearly 9 minutes (many tracks run over 6 minutes - I think a little tightening could have helped some of the songs) just does not speak to me in the way the other songs do. It is too meandering and doesn't have the strong melody that I've come to associate with his music. In addition, with so many ballads and downtempo tracks, he runs the risk of having things all sound a little bit too "same-ish" with none of the tracks being absolute standouts and all running together in the listener's mind.

That having been said, I think The Crossing is a grower, an album that will take its own sweet time in opening up to the listener. It is certainly taking its own sweet time on me. When I first got it, nothing save "Projector" really jumped out and grabbed me like "In Silence" and "Opaline" did from DIVIDE and "For Reasons Unexplained" and "Blood" did from Standing at the Edge. This can be a good thing. Sometimes, when an album is immediately appealing, there's a tendency for it to burn white-hot for a few weeks and then die out. When an album is a slow burn, I think you're more likely to find new angles and sounds that you hadn't seen or heard on previous listens. This has already happened with me personally. However, the marriage of the introspective and emotional lyrics with a pop sensibility is what has always attracted me to Casey's music, and I think the album could have benefited from a couple of uptempo tracks. It's a good record, just not a perfect one.

Casey Stratton is one of my personal heroes. His ability to cut right to the core of the emotion through his lyrics and music never ceases to amaze me. I think it was what first drew me to him as an artist - the fact that he was so open emotionally in his music. That is not easy - especially for men - and his music, in a way, helps affirm my own masculinity. His music speaks to my soul, which is what all the best music in your life should do. I don't appreciate each and every song he puts out - but the fact that he perseveres on this road despite the obstacles that being an independent artist pose is inspiring. I'm always in awe of someone who does what they want - follows their bliss, to quote the great Joseph Campbell - and then has the ability to affect as many people has he has. He may never be at the level of celebrity of Madonna or any other ultra-famous musician, and Timbaland will probably never produce a record for him (at least I hope not!!) but perhaps that's not what it's about for him. And on a purely personal level, if he ever did gain that level of celebrity, it'd be awfully hard for him to sign CDs in the front bar of Uncommon Ground in Chicago.

Buy The Crossing from Casey's Digital Store
Buy The Crossing from iTunes
Buy The Crossing from CDBaby

Watch "Rising Sun" via YouTube below:

1 comment:

Demetrius said...

Thanks for sharing this clip!