By Travis Erwin
Jeff Crosby’s new album, Northstar, conveys a strong sense of self-affirmation that often feels like inner dialogue. But within the lyrics and melodies there is a broader relevance for us all as if Crosby has exposed his scars, fears, and dreams to the light of day so that in them we can find our own brand of self-reflection. Sure, Crosby is standing there front and center, but look a little closer and we are there in the background staring back at the same visions, emotions, and experiences. This is the gift well crafted music can deliver perhaps better than any other art form.
“If I’m Lucky” is an opener for those of us hanging on by a thread, but hanging on still. Be it a relationship, a dream or sanity we have all felt time, opportunity, and drive slipping away to the point that making it another day or week feels like a matter of luck. The song ushers in the we are in it together vibe that holds through many of these selections.
The title track is a lively track that puts me in mind musically of the band Reckless Kelly, to which Crosby once toured with as a guitar player. Lyrically there is a lonely desperation, that is palpable and makes me yearn for an impromptu road trip. Not because I have somewhere to go but because I simply need to be moving along.
Offering a big musical shift, “Hold This Town Together” also feels different vocally with a slow measured quality that works well to convey the ragged seams of a threadbare kind of town and its people desperately trying to make it feel like home. The fourth track “Laramie’ is arguably the best written of the bunch. A dark and brooding reflection of lost love you can feel the icy streets beneath your feet as you listen.
“Out Of My Hands” finishes the first half of the album with a dreamlike vocal style that conjures thoughts of Orbison, though lyrically it did not speak as loudly for me as the other songs comprising Northstar. The self-depreciating track “Liability” is a meandering song that feels exactly like a woeful stream of conscious that we have all let ourselves slip into, and here it feels like a classic drink-in-hand kind of number.
The sad refrains continue with “Born To Be Lonely” though the honky-tonk sound lends a different quality to this track, making it feel more upbeat than a closer listen at the lyrics would suggest. I like this slight conflict as it gives a nostalgic spin to the overall feeling of the song. “Heart On My Sleeve” is a duet and Lauren Farrah helps draw out a mournful side of love that pairs perfectly with the slow fiddle present in the track’s more powerful moments.
“My Mother’s God” ushers back in a more upbeat tempo, though there is still that longing spirit of regret tinged hope. The vocals at times reminded me of James McMurtry and given that you can feel every word here the comparison can be extended beyond vocal tone.
Closing out the album, “Red White Black and Blue” delivers a somber tone at a methodical pace. A songwriter’s track that might miss its mark upon the first listen this final number is a bit slow to reveal its emotions, but then again, aren’t we all. Lucky for us, we have music to help express the thoughts and feelings lurking inside us all.
Travis Erwin is a published author of numerous books, novels, and articles. Follow him on twitter @traviserwin to talk about this review, or music in general. Look for his body of work wherever you shop for books.