Kicking off with the strike of the snare drum and a swirling electric guitar, "Persuasion" from Justin Cross and the Engine Co.'s upcoming record The Rock and The Roll signals a clear demarcation from the singer/songwriter’s last full-length, 2015's Hope Where It Lies.
While the previous release's songs were filled with delicate melodies accented by acoustic guitar, dulcimer and violin, Cross has built the core of these new songs around a blues rock/Americana feel, expertly expressed in the aforementioned "Persuasion," the piano soul of the title track and the acoustic-led "Mama Don't You Wait." Recorded at Bud Brown's Higher Ground Studios, Cross knew he wanted to break expectations.
"The set of songs is different," Cross says. "They're a little more accessible. A little less folk and a little more full-on rock band. I'm pretty excited about that."
He and his band, The Engine Co. - consisting of electric guitarist Jordan Pridemore, bassist Jordan Holsombeck and drummer Kyle Carpenter - found inspiration in Cross's father's 25 years as a firefighter.
"I grew up around fire stations most of my life and always thought Engine Co. would be such a cool band name," Cross elaborates. "In that world, an engine company works together to get a specific job done. I’m recording this album with one group of guys, and we are working together as a unit to make a sound. It made me think it should be labeled as more than just a solo record."
Speaking of fatherhood, the hiatus in between the two records came from an intentional focus on Cross's marriage and his two sons. Writing songs has always been a means of expression for Cross, but becoming a father brought a new dimension to his lyrical, musical and creative direction.
"I still see the songs as expressions of what I want to say, but a lot of the songs have become expressions of what I want to say to my sons and leave behind for them," says Cross. "It gives the writing more of an urgency. It makes me want to say something that actually has meaning versus writing a catchy song."
Finally, Cross hopes that this album, while distinctly American in its genre and title, can connect worldwide. Thanks to his "Drink The Water" video (which currently has over 11 million views) and other videos on YouTube, Cross has seen not only a local, regional and national fanbase develop, but he has also received messages and support from listeners internationally.
"Something I've noticed about the feedback from folks overseas is that they really crave emotional honesty, they crave rawness, they crave realness. Something that is the staple of traditional American music and folk and Americana is that raw emotion and energy, that realness of dealing with real issues that goes beyond ‘a girl broke my heart’ or something like that."
While he may not be touring Europe anytime soon, he will be searching for unique ways to connect with fans both in the States and abroad through physical and virtual mediums.
Regardless of where you are, the Georgia-bred, Birmingham-based Justin Cross has offered the invitation to a thrilling and collaborative musical experience.
- Chris K. Davidson