Anglo-Swedish folk rockers Alberta Cross have been busy for quite a while, even if the weight of the world really is resting on Petter Ericson Stakee’s shoulders. The Swede (who resides in London) is currently the sole member of Alberta Cross, with his new, self-titled album Alberta Cross being released last week. The record was recorded in an old Dreamland church, the location of the original Woodstock festival. Read on for our track-by-track review of the record.
YOU’LL BE FINE
You’ll Be Fine opens the record in a subdued and subtle fashion, with Ericson’s lone voice accompanied by a guitar and some keys for just under two minutes. “You don’t need any trouble, you just need to be found” sings Ericson on the song’s opening line as a lilting xylophone backs him up. Slight hints of falsetto and the repeated line, “you’ll be fine” appear throughout, building up to the record’s real big kick-off moment.
GHOST OF SANTA FE
The record really gets going once the bombastic brass of Ghost of Santa Fe enters the frame, its grandeur accompanied by a pulsating rhythm section. The verses are calmer, with only the percussion in the background adding some sense of progression in the background. The chorus is big and catchy, with Ericson’s voice really coming to life during its short passage. A section of chanted vocals make an appearance halfway through, adding to the anthemic appeal that this song already presents itself with. As the song comes to an end, all instruments join together and make for an extremely grandiose exit filled with bombastic brass, wailed vocals and euphoria.
This is followed up on Western State’s strummed guitars and classic country riff, one which emphasizes the use of a slide melody and underpinning rhythms. “So you lost yourself to the western state” sings Ericson, his lyrics really being turned into a memorable story. He’s addressing a boy, asking him whether or not he’s “ever felt the mercy of a western state”. The lyrics complement the underpinning instrumental accompaniment well, with Ericson proving his ability to combine the two effortlessly. Western State isn’t as grandiose as Ghost of Santa Fe, but it’s definitely equally memorable. An organ-led mid-section helps play the track out towards it end, before the brass takes the helm at the close.
Easy Street opens on a combination of acoustic guitars and piano, with Ericson’s soft vocals gradually being accompanied by a slew of instruments. Brass is present once more, with strings also joining the party throughout. The track itself is very bare for the most part, its bones only being given some skin by the various flourishes of brass and string which litter the course of the track. “Living on our own” declares Ericson throughout, with the track itself also giving off a very isolated feeling which shows how the lyrics and music nicely complement one another.
This is one of the more upbeat tracks on Alberta Cross, being led by a whistled melody and occasional fuzzy guitar stabs. The percussion is faster-paced, and Ericson’s vocals once again soar over the rest of the instrumentation. “Desolation gets to you” he claims during the first verse, continuing about the “constellations in my sleep”. Although Isolation does present a nice, upbeat edge to the record, you do start to sense that things are starting to follow a relatable formula and become quite similar.
Ericson references Mexico during Water Mountain’s first verse, his vocals accompanied solely by a piano until some percussion enters the frame. “Is there an honest way to see you again?” asks the frontman, before some light brass builds up between verses. Jericho is referenced during the second verse, this time with more instrumental backing present in the formula. During the second half of the track, everything truly comes together and Ericson’s superb vocal wails are interspersed between distorted guitars and ambient background instrumentation. The sparseness of Water Mountain’s opening half is thus removed and replaced by a massive second half which comes with lots of emotional appeal.
Heavy Words carries itself along with an opening guitar riff straight out of a folk-by-numbers handbook (see the ‘Add Rock Elements’ chapter), before the verse dies down and is held back by blues-y piano and occasional effects-laden guitar stabs. “In your head you’re wondering if there’s a difference between us and them” declares Ericson, before another bigger chorus is sandwiched between subtle verses. Although Heavy Words is generally quite a good track, everything is slowly starting to sound the same. With five songs left on the record, this isn’t really a good sign…
BENEATH MY LOVE
Strummed intro guitar? Check. Calm, subdued vocals? Check. Progressive instrumental build-up? Check. The only thing that sets Beneath My Love apart from the rest is its use of interesting instrumentation. Foreign percussion sounds and an intriguing use of strings give this track an edge other songs on Alberta Cross don’t have. The foreign percussion is what especially holds the track together, something which is in particular down to its rhythmic structure. “You know I do care” declares Ericson, with the second half of the track making use of interesting vocal dubs and an even more prominent combination of instrumental output. A fuzzy guitar solo helps play the track out, making Beneath My Love one of the better songs on the record.
GET UP HIGH
Plonked piano’s, big acoustic guitars and percussive flourishes are the main stronghold on Get Up High, a track which is one of the slower and darker ones on Alberta Cross. Ericson asks us if we can “imagine a life without strain”, with his vocals sounding genuinely strained and beaten down. Get Up High doesn’t sound as uplifting as it promises, with Ericson sounding more like he Got Down Low and is now looking for some kind of Hollywood-esque redemption. Get Up High drags on to an extent, being one of the longest tracks on the album.
SHADOW OF MINE
Shadow of Mine opens on more subdued acoustic guitars, which are eventually accompanied by brass and make way for an extremely slow verse. The track almost goes nowhere for the most part, occasionally building itself up only to tear itself down during the verse. As the track heads towards an end, things take a slight turn for the grandiose; however, this is only the case due to the extra inclusion of brass and strings. Shadow of Mine is one of the weaker tracks on Alberta Cross, unfortunately.
Penultimate track Smoky Lake follows yet again the same acoustic guitar intro-formula, with Ericson this time round singing in a more upbeat tone as organ synths and faster percussion enter the frame. “If I had known, would I have reached for the signs?” asks Ericson, his question being answered by brief flourishes of brass and strings. The song remains quite stagnant and non-progressive for the most part, until strings take the helm during the final quarter of the track. By then, it’s still too late to save the song, though. A piano-led closing section is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, before hopeful-sounding brass are joined by Ericson’s closing lines.
IT’S YOU THAT’S CHANGING
The album comes to an end on the its longest track, It’s You That’s Changing. At six and a half minutes, this track is by far the longest and most-drawn out song on Alberta Cross. It takes quite a while for the song to really kick into some sort of shape, with it not even seeming to be the case for quite some time. Ericson is, for the most part, alone in his travels as the underpinning instrumentals are very bare and sparse. The whole track is spent building up toward something, however this ultimate end-point is never reached. Instead, the record comes to an end on a sad note. It could’ve ended on a bigger scale, with the inclusion of all the previously heard instruments, instead doing the complete opposite.
Although the record does form a coherent whole thanks to its loose, improv-ready structure, it still does feel like a bit too much of the same. Alberta Cross had a lot of promise on the huge Ghost of Santa Fe, as well as on the promising Beneath My Love, however the rest of the record flitters between impressive folk rock and middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly folk. It’s not a bad record by any means, but it could have definitely done with some variation within its themes.
For fans of: The Staves, early Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters & Men. Listen to Ghost of Santa Fe below.