As folk once again enjoys de rigeur status on the cyclical merry-go-round of popular music, it would be a foolish enterprise indeed to merely marry its principles with something as conventional as straight rock. The Veils and The Leaves did that a few years ago; where did it get them?
But wait! Above and beyond the discarding nature of trends, there’s an over-riding standard that transcends shifting tastes: songwritingship. It’s a made-up word of course, but it’s also the reason Alberta Cross’s debut full-length album is more than just a one-genre pony.
From hither and thither but now based in New York, Alberta Cross are an alt-rock five-piece that have already supported the likes of Dave Matthews Band, but that shouldn’t be held against them; they’re actually rather good.
In fact, let’s address the rather obvious comparisons to Kings Of Leon and The Raconteurs. Then imagine The Stills around the time of their debut album, but less paranoid, more interested in mid-’90s alternative rock. Now imagine Turin Brakes‘ Olly Knights is lead singer. There. You’ve got it.
Broken Side Of Time roars into life with Song Three Blues, a Neil Young-esque lament that grows seamlessly from acoustic to amped and back again, its aural imprint further crafted with well-measured harmonies and a momentary silence.
No sooner have you nodded, pleasantly surprised, than current single ATX is throttling you without mercy. Is that palm muting? Yup. A wailing guitar solo? Certainly. A stirring chorus? Indeed. But is it any good? Absolutely, and sounding peculiarly fresh and relevant considering its constituent parts. That’s the sign of good songwritingship.
It is Taking Control, however, that signals the LP’s crossroads. For some, this will be another skilfully crafted alt-rock artefact, coloured with acoustic touches and Petter Ericson Stakee’s distinctive timbre. For others, it will be rock by numbers, easy to digest but even easier to produce. You know, the Stereophonics.
For those who give the benefit of the doubt and decide to persist, rewards are in store: Old Man Chicago, a re-recorded refugee from the band’s self-produced EP, is more Jeff Tweedy than Kelly Jones, and, with its disarmingly soulful refrain, is unlikely to ever outstay its welcome.
The album’s title track, meanwhile, throws out minor power chords with abandon, subsiding now and then under Stakee’s powerful wail before reducing itself to a slight strum in the face of his most poetic efforts.
And there are moments of shade to folk-rock’s light: Rise From The Shadows’ mournful, synth-heavy composition is as cinematic as they come; City Walls utilises the same approach as the foundation for a subsequent rock out. It’s almost like an Incubus track, but in the best possible way.
Album closer Ghost Of City Life wraps it up with all amps unplugged, Stakee’s maudlin elegy wrought over the saddest folk backing imaginable. It’s not a bang, but neither is it a whimper. In fact, it may just be the album’s greatest track.
Broken Side Of Time, as you’ve probably already gathered, is hardly groundbreaking. But then again, very little is. What can be said for Alberta Cross’s debut LP is that it does what it does very well, and the good and great of songwriting deserve recognition regardless of how conventionally they reach their goals.