AMBER CROSS – Savage On The Downhill (own label AC03007)

Savage On The DownhillBorn and raised in rural Maine, the daughter of a smalltown pastor, where she first sang in her local church (her live debut album of gospel country was titled My Kind Of Church), now, when not singing, Cross roams the California forests as a hunter and fisherwoman. No surprise then to find the songs on her third album linked to nature and her lifestyle, indeed, sung in her distinctive raspy twang, the slow march title track, co-penned by producer Ray Bonneville and featuring Gurf Morlix on guitar, refers to a type of hunting rifle and how it should be held to avoid getting dirt in the barrel when going downhill and was inspired by a wild boar she frequently encountered while hunting, extending to serve as a metaphor for being trapped in and escaping a controlling relationship.

Album opener, the mid-tempo, brushed snare trot ‘Pack Of Lies’ with Bonneville’s twangy guitar solo, trawls similar territory about being haunted by past acts and regrets (“I made this bed where I lay in the shame/Memories of you oh they haunt my mind…There’s no way around how careless I’ve been/Selfish and blind, facade of love, loss of a friend”) while the slow waltzing ‘Eagle & Blue’, where the singer revisits old haunts, also involves a disintegrating relationship, the last verse taken from a poem by veteran roots country singer Bodie Wagner.

Itchy feet stroll through the harmonica coloured barroom shuffle of ‘Leaving Again’ (“Can’t I live with myself, his poor heart in my hands/I tell him I tried but he don’t understand/I know this is home but it don’t feel that way/He don’t want me to go but he drives me away”) and, keeping the theme going, ‘Echoes’, which, laced by Mike Hardwick’s pedal steel, melodically sound like a slow lope take on ‘Jackson’, reflects on a marriage grown stale over the years now that the kids have gone (“Tell me again just why are we still together/Lying next to you I never felt so alone”), but, in this case also looks to find a reason to believe and a fight to regain the spark.

‘Trinity Gold Mine’ strips it down to just her and an acoustic guitar, a rural story song about an outsider and hidden pasts (“My friends say I’m a real nice guy/But they don’t know about me”), the pace picking up to a marching beat again with Morlix on baritone guitar for the heartaching Bonneville co-write ‘Tracey Joe’, another story-song, again about escaping abusive relationships, and of a mother remembering the son she’s lost touch with.

Tim O’Brien adding fiddle, the slow waltzing ‘Storms Of Scarcity’, on the other hand, talks of finding permanence together in times of hardship (“Somehow I’ll get though with you by my side”), while, the last of the self-penned songs, memories are at the heart of ‘One Last Look’, a classic country twanged guitar, walking beat nostalgic reflection of returning in her mind to “places I will never see again” and of freeing yourself by bidding a fond farewell and letting go (“I’m going to walk right in and say hello, set my spirit free”).

The album ends with a shuffling cover of Bonneville’s lonesome looking back on what’s gone, call of the road themed ‘Lone Freighter’s Wail’, the man himself providing pensive echoey electric guitar, a fine conclusion to an album that has its sights honed, its barrel clean and its chamber fully loaded.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Trinity Gold Mine’ – official video: