Chris Ross and The North. Fans of the former, get used to the new configuration. I think you’re going to like what these four Maine natives conjure up in the latest release, Young Once.
Fans should know:
Album release date is June 2, 2015, available online at the usual spots and at Bull Moose Music.
Celebration album release show, Friday, May 29th, at The Grand in Ellsworth. I’m betting you can pick up the CD at the merch table so your cash goes right to the band. Get your tickets here.
Now let’s take a little look at the first track:
Maine, as many of you know, is blessed with talented musicians. Maybe they just make beautiful sense of what we consider natural – heartbreak, scuffed knuckles, front porches, tree-lined dirt roads and highways, and blurry nights in parking lots. Or maybe it is the long silence of winter and brilliance of summer. Or maybe it is simply in the gene pool because we are just that tough, clever, big-hearted, and good looking. Who knows. And I do not care. Chris Ross and The North are keeping the Maine talent bonfire lit with Young Once, a study of poignant topics, rasp, nicely done guitar, and a sprinkle of keyboards.
I was a fan of Ross the minute I heard him at a benefit in Bangor. That was a few years ago, and I still love his lyrics, the imagery he can raise from a simple phrase, and the range of emotion he can sift through in his vocals, moving from grit to yearn to complete abandon. I will admit that I was surprised that Ross became a band. I wouldn’t have laid money on that. I reached out to him for more information, and he generously complied. Let me just say that an email response from Ross is akin to several pages of well-written prose. He can make “how the band got together” seem like magic. And on that note…to summarize Ross, The North came together naturally and over time. Ross is now flanked by three Bangor area natives; Ryan Curless on drums and grandson of the beloved Dick Curless; Caleb Sweet on bass; and Zachary Bence, “master of all things strings and keys.”
I told Ross that the new release seemed to be a bit of departure from his earlier work. He didn’t think so. I think we are both correct, but mostly him. I’m going to quote him because Ross can say it so much better:
“The songs are still pretty bleak. “The Long Way” deals with a child of divorce and an estranged father dealing with addiction, “Burns” is basically a fuck-you song to an ex-lover, “Drunk Women” follows my further decent into cynicism regarding relationships, “When The Dark Allows”, while being musically upbeat (this choice in particular was heavily influenced by the band), is still a very sad song about being in love with someone who doesn’t love me in return, “The Wolf” is the most obviously dark song on the album, reminding myself that I am often the villain.” (I’m struggling to see Chris Ross as a villain, but I don’t get to hang out with him and drink Jameson. I would, though.) Ross goes on to say, “I suppose there are a couple more positive tracks, “Annabelle” (but even that song is basically begging a lover not to leave), “Easier Said Than Done” etc… I’d like to believe I’m just a little more three dimensional than I used to be.” Fine, Ross, I agree. There isn’t much happy content here, but the songs will still tickle the cynical and heartbroken bone in all of us.
Perhaps instead of feeling like a departure from earlier material, Young Once feels like the musical composition, and Ross, have opened up. Expanded. I believe that The North has added a nice energy to the new collection of songs as well as helped/pushed Ross toward new ground. Musically, The North is understated and creates a nice platform for Ross’ lyrics and vocals; Curless is refined and ever so light with his work on drums; Sweet, on bass, also rounds out the rhythm with a light touch; and Bence provides electric riffs and sniffs of interesting keyboard work that fill out the music, taking it from the traditional acoustic vibe but never losing the homey feel. Bence is upping the game without overwhelming what fans of Chris Ross adore.
I believe Ross and the band members would also like it mentioned that Young Once was recorded at The Halo in Windham and recorded and mixed by “the incredibly badass Jonathan Wyman.” Ross shared with me that working at The Halo came together out of the blue and “our time in The Halo was perfect.” He went on to add:
“Jonathan Wyman is a master. I’m not throwing that word around lightly. He’s absolutely world class, universe class. He’s not only a master of the craft of recording (ears that can hear a drum being 1/8th step flat, knowing exactly which guitar through which amp is the right choice, the Carl Sagan of knobturning), but he is also a master of the human element. He is a coach in the studio, asking for more when he knows it’s inside of you, giving you a breather when you need it, criticism when you deserve it and compliments when you’ve earned them.
“I know, without a doubt, that the record we made is the best I’ve ever done, and more importantly, the best I could have done. I owe that entirely to Jon, Darren, the brothers in my band, and the spirit of The Halo itself, omnipresent and nurturing, growing with each project within its walls, and passing the warmth onto the next artist to stroll through its doors.”
Many fans thank Wyman and all the folks at The Halo.
Track by Track:
“The Long Way” video is featured above. Take a listen. Ross’ storytelling with less acoustic, more electric, comes alive. This song doesn’t feel sad, but the pain of addiction is clear.
“Burn” is perhaps my favorite cut. Sparse, pissed off, and a smoky guitar weaves throughout the pulse of this one. Ross sings, “I hope he burns you down to ash, hope he turns to you and laughs, I hope he burns you down…”
“Drunk Women” seems to be tongue in cheek, but I’m tempted to believe there is truth in the sad barfly sentiment. Slow and clever imagery.
Up tempo, energetic, and full of images of the open road and all the possibilities, “Annabelle” is a nice addition to break the heartbreak tension. Of course, Ross did state that this is about begging a lover stay… Anyway, “Annabelle” cements that The North is completing the composition, not competing with the lyrical content.
“When the Dark Allows,” featuring the divine vocal talent of Kenya Hall, is funky and soulful and fun. This really works well and adds a nice variety to the lineup.
“Easier Said Than Done” gives us acoustic and a guest appearance from Kevin Oates on cello, full and sweet, and a feeling that Ross seems to specialize in – lost love – that never gets old to listen to.
“You Can Have Mine” My favorite line – “Storm gathers in the last light, You’re hanging tattered on the clothesline, Don’t you know, girl, it’s just fine to bring a pillow to a gun fight…” This song feels vintage, dance by the light of the radio good.
“The Wolf” is full of messages – political, personal, and primal – all wrapped up with a great classic rock and roll riff, smart keyboards, and even a wolf howl. I will admit, I wasn’t really sure what to think of this song at first, but it is growing on me.
Bluesy and charming, a song meant for slow dancing, “Ordinary Madness” is slower, misty, and hazy.
“Gone and On” is ragged with an undertone of old rock and roll beat. The drums and guitar on this one float the lyrics along, as well as the listener.
“Chalkboard Balladeer” is bigger than most on this release, bluesy and rocking, with Ross’ signature love song spin – “it’s you, the star of all my sweet dreams, the song I never sang for the girl that never knew.” This is a fantastic wrap up for the album.
There isn’t a bad one here, fans. Chris Ross and The North have created an entertaining, thoughtful, well-produced release. I have found that Ross’ lyrics stand the test – I can go back months later and find the same lyric still has impact, still makes me think of something long ago or brand new; Young Once will be the same sort of gem in the CD stack. The North is bringing more depth to what already works. That is exciting. All our best to Ross, Curless, Sweet, and Bence.