Vincent Cross: "A Town Called Normal"

July 2013

A Town Called NormalNot Quite Bluegrass, but Very Good Nonetheless

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

A good 90 percent of the indie albums we receive for review come from agents that have only indie clients. SoundStage! Network writers recommend about five to seven percent. Then about two to three percent come from the artists themselves. A Town Called Normal is one of the latter. That's sort of ironic, because it sounds like it could have been recorded in West Virginia, where I live.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Vincent Cross is an Irishman born in Dublin, raised in Australia, and now residing in New York City. He has a super voice that sometimes reminds me of early acoustic Neil Young and other times Robert Earl Keen, with just enough twang to spike things up without becoming annoying. Cross can also produce a fine high-and-lonesome sound when he chooses.

The backup band contains banjos, and Cross himself switches from guitar to mandolin. That's the right instrumentation for a bluegrass band, but then Cross throws in some folksy harmonica, and there are drums on three cuts. I think newgrass might be the best way to describe Cross's music, which combines bluegrass, folk, folk rock, and other influences into a very satisfying whole.

All of the songs on the disc are originals except for "The Cuckoo," which is traditional. Things get off to a good start with the title song, which is followed by the most bluegrass-like cut, "Cursed." The latter sounds like it's from Bill Monroe country, and it features antiphonal banjos to splendid effect. The rest of the album is more eclectic, but it all makes sense and is a very comfortable listen.

As happy as I am with Cross and his band, I'm less enthused about the recorded sound, which is warm to the point of being close to muddy. The banjos rise out of the soup, but the drums never do and the upright bass is not pointed enough. The bass is loud, though, so be careful at setting the volume when you start the first track.

I'm happy to have discovered Vincent Cross, and I have the artist himself to thank. He writes eclectic tunes with good hooks and surrounds himself with instrumentalists that are as good as he is. Cross is definitely worth a listen, and I'll be interested in seeing what he comes up with next.

Be sure to listen to: The second chorus of "Turn Your Eyes" has bowed upright bass in unison with the vocal. It's a sound I'd never heard before in such a rapidly developing song, but it's quite effective.

. . . Rad Bennett

More SoundStage! Videos

  • SoundStage! Encore: Combating Crosstalk, with David Chesky (February 2020)
  • SoundStage! Expert: Sonus faber Olympica Nova Speakers - 1) General Care (February 2020)
  • SoundStage! Expert: Sonus faber Olympica Nova Speakers - 2) Grille Care (February 2020)
  • SoundStage! Expert: Sonus faber Olympica Nova Speakers - 3) Cleaning (February 2020)
  • SoundStage! Shorts: Rockport Technologies' Speaker Drivers (February 2020)
  • SoundStage! Shorts: Rockport's Custom Crossover Calibration (Dec. 2019)
  • SoundStage! InSight: Inside the World of McIntosh Townhouse (December 2019)
  • SoundStage! Encore: Listening with Your Eyes, with David Chesky (December 2019)
  • SoundStage! Encore: Recording Drums, Part 3 - The Mix (June 2019)
  • SoundStage! Encore: Recording Drums, Part 2 - Loel Campbell on Setting Up Drums (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Encore: Recording Drums, Part 1 - Philosophy (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Encore: Henkka Niemistö on the Role of a Mastering Engineer (December 2018)
  • SoundStage! Encore:
  • SoundStage! Encore: Vincent Bélanger and the Hornpipe Cello (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! Encore:
  • SoundStage! Expert: All About Headphones and Earphones (Episodes 1-5)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Rockport Technologies Lyra Loudspeaker (November 2019)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Sonus faber Olympica Nova at World of McIntosh Townhouse (October 2019)
  • SoundStage InSight - Rockport Technologies Past, Present, Future (September 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert: Basics of Solid-State Class-AB Amplifiers (Episodes 1-5)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -  Paradigm's Dual Voice Coils (July 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Audio Research's CD6SE and CD9SE CD Players (May 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 1) Why You Need One (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 2) Cartridge Types (April 2019)