Let's face it, blending Rock and Roll, Soul, and Americana is nothing new. Many artists have done it in fresh, exciting ways, and we may even right now be in the middle of one of the greatest creative surges those musical forms have ever seen. But singer/songwriter Brian Lindsay's debut album, The Crossing, should assure him his rightful place at the table -- crammed as it is already with the innovators and visionaries who precede him. It may seem hard to believe that an artist can convey sincerity before he's even uttered a word, but Lindsay accomplishes just that (with the help of producer/arranger Mark Gifford) in the Crossing's first few seconds, when a harmonica calls out against soaring acoustic guitars in a vibrant, life-like musical backdrop that would have sounded flat, empty and canned had there been an ounce of calculated cynicism in putting it together. When Lindsay's voice does come in, he sounds reassuring, warm and profoundly human. Not unlike Neil Young, Lindsay values feeling over perfection, an approach that works wonders. His phrasing is immediately, strikingly distinctive. And, because of his skillful balance of assuredness and vulnerability, emotion prevails in each performance. Earnest lyrics combine with the material to create a mood that remains down-to-earth and accessible until the album concludes. Nowadays, it seems the music world is littered with half-baked country songs set to macho posturing and flaccid electric guitars trying to sound tough. That stuff may make good, disposable fodder for truck commercials -- and make for a great laugh -- but you'll recognize the real deal when you hear it all over The Crossing. Lindsay's back-up cast plays with striding confidence, but they never overplay their hand. This is certainly hard-knuckled rock and roll, but the players -- including Lindsay on acoustic guitar -- forego swagger for heart, a choice which gives the music real power instead of just force. A far cry from the sanitized radio-friendly attempts at rock coming out of Nashville these days, Lindsay's work is nonetheless resplendent with savvy arrangements that make The Crossing a rich, textured listen. There's touches of R&B (the back-up vocals of 'It's All About You') subdued, Elvis Costello-styled blues rock (the sweet saxophone on 'Forever Yours'), doo-wop (the haunting atmosphere of 'The Night is Long'), bar-room blues (the slide guitar on 'Unconditional'), and other flavors as well. Lyrically, Lindsay is a classic example of the artist who is able to dig into his own sensitivity and find strength. And he possesses that rare knack for avoiding narcissism and self-pity. He finds his muse in the world around him, so his music resonates with conscience. With a flair that's often gentle and fleeting but deftly poetic, Lindsay acknowledges tragedy in this country's past, (the once proud Native American country from 'The Crossing'), captures the pain of being disapproved of by a lover's old man on account of his background (Now your daddy don't know me/said someday I'll walk away from 'East Side of the River'), and soberly questions violence both nationally and abroad (Now we build weapons/to arm rebels overseas/I'm not sure I want any part of that from 'American Justice'). Mostly, Lindsay takes an admirably straightforward approach to lyrics. But occasionally he makes great use of ambiguity (whispers in the night/knocking at the door/strangers in the night/voices I ain't never heard before, a final verse that casts a dark uncertainty on the otherwise devoted tone of 'Unconditional'), and even wry irony (I never wanted to be no rock star/there goes the last of the true believers, from 'The Last of the True Believers'). Lindsay embodies the new American values of conscientiousness and social introspection. Americana-rock music is a better place now that he's around. Once you hear him, you'll want to ask, 'where you been all this time?'
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