Album review: HEATHER CROSSE – Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads





Ruf [Release date 04.09.15]

Heather Crosse is a bass playing soulful blues vocalist who recently introduced herself to European blues audiences on the back the 2015 Girls With Guitars/Blues Caravan tour.

She draws on the rich blues traditions of her Louisiana past and her current home in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to shape her own contemporary blues style that is neatly summarized by the album title ‘Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads’.

It’s a song driven album, full of soulful grooves and laid back vocals that place the emphasis on gentle melodies, while her band leans into carpet thick grooves.

Heather’s soulful phrasing nuances her lyrical meaning, as she imbues her songs with real feel. The spacious arrangements, deep grooves and Heather’s spark and vitality give ‘Groovin’ At the Crosse Roads’ its southern character.

She adds a guttural growl on the outro of her signature song ‘Why Does A Woman Need A Bass Guitar’, suggesting that she knows her vocal limitations, but when her sultry voice and tasteful band coalesce seamlessly on ‘Rockin’ Chair’, they are really on to something special.

The album opens with Big Mamma Thornton classic ‘My Man Called Me’, but without the original doowop bv’s, which are neatly replaced by Dan Smith’s subtle guitar and Mark Yacovone tinkling ivories. The duo’s intricate interplay and vibrant solos add to the pulse of the song rather than dominate it, while Crosse and drummer Lee Williams anchor the track.

‘Why Does A Woman Need A Bass Guitar’ is a bass led groove well suited to her relaxed and breathy vocal style. The bv’s are again slightly too high in the mix, while the concept of ‘less is more’ is taken to extremes on her bass solo, which is quiet to the point of nearly falling off the track, though it does work well as a dynamic device when the band comes back in.

Gwen McCrae’s mid 70’s funky soul classic ‘Rockin’ Chair’ follows, and perfectly suits Crosse’s mellifluous style, as the band slips into the kind of crossover soulful groove that defines the core of this album.

The mood is extended on the hip shufflin’ ‘Clarksdale Shuffle’, underpinned by Heather’s subtle walking bass line and topped by celebratory lyrics’: “Good people got good vibes, preserving history at the blues museum, standing at the Crossroads feeling the blues, jamming at ground Zero it make you wanna move.”

Her band Heavy Suga & The Sweetones live up to their name as nothing is forced. Their melodic approach is perfectly encapsulated by ‘Hurryin’ Up To Relax’, a laid back, mid-tempo outing that lets the melody breathe.

‘Walkin’ In Their Shoes’ has echoes of  George Jackson’s ‘Down Home Blues’, but the song beguiles us with it’s undulating swing and autobiographical lyrics: “They taught my soul to sing and my fingers what to do, through the days and nights, taught me all they knew.”

The cover of ‘Damn Your Eyes’ fits the album’s flow, but it’s probably just out of her vocal range, and while ‘Call On Me’ injects a welcome change of pace, the last two album tracks don’t quite deliver the expected uplifting finish.

Heather opening growl and southern rap on the mambo shuffle ‘You Don’t Move Me No More’, can’t quite rescue a passable, but unmemorable finish to an otherwise enjoyable album, which is probably 4 songs short of being essential.  ***½

Pete Feenstra

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