Bluegrass Music News - Summer 91
Irregular Guy - Mike Cross (Sugar Hill Records SH~1OO9)
Available from Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 4040, Duke Station, Durham, North Carolina 27706.
Personnel: Mike Cross - fiddle, guitar and vocals/Pat Flynn - guitar/Jerry Douglas - dobro/ Stuart Duncan - fiddle/ Bruce Watkins - banjo/Dave Pomeroy - bass/unknown mandolin player
Medley (The Cascade Jig, The Broken Branch Jig)/Carolina Calling/ Every Line On My Face/Poor Man’s Heaven/Michael The Mason/ My Spirit's Willing/ Poor Lazarus/ Direction/Brief Moment In The Sun/ Yo Down Fiddler/Tobacco Song/Flyin Down the Highway/ Piney Woods/ Hard Times (Trouble & Strife)/Basket of Thyme/TheFarewell Toast
A fine songsmith is a treasure of the good Earth. They craft meaningful moments, utilizing the miracle of language and the gift of melody. Thus, when Mike Cross has been jobbing around for as long as he has, and so few of his songs have been picked up by bluegrass bands, who seem intent on filling our head with yet another subpar version of Salty Dog, Rocky Top, or the other overdone bluegrass standards that seem to go on forever, makes me wonder if the talent of recognizing a good tune is even an active element of the style. Irregular Guy is just another example of Cross’ talents. And, while he is certainly one of the more dynamic performers on the circuit, the magic is in the music.
Although Cross isn't a household name in the bluegrass community, he does manage to perform at a number of, rather liberal, bluegrass festiva1s and his recordings are, quite often, found in the bluegrass bins of record stores who really don't know much about genres outside of mainstream. However, any band in search of material should check thi guy out. There are five or six numbers on Irregular Guy which would fit a bluegrass format like a glove. Cross is masterful on ballads as is evident on works like Carolina Calling, Basket of Thyme, and Michael The Mason. Lots of folks think that songwriting is easy. It isn't, particularly if you want to produce a product that's of lasting value. The best have an absolute love of lan-guage blended with a serious obsession with melody and harmony. That's because one minor slip in a melody or phrasing problems can turn something of value into a song that’s only average. And I find work, like that on Irregular Guy, to flourish as a piece of art, mainly due to the pure craft of the song.
But let’s not ignore Mike Cross as a performer. He': the co-producer, with Jerry Douglas, of Irregular Guy and shows a highly-realized sense of taste in his work. A problem among singer/songwriters today is a tendency to over-produce their music at the recording level. I’ve never understood this, but it would seem to signal a lack of trust in the material on its own. Cross doesn't have this problem. He allows the music to breathe on its own. His production is limited throughout, often presenting the material with only guitar and fiddle accompaniment. And, surprise-surprise it works! Much of the credit should go to Cross who, as a working performer, composes his songs around his own abilities. And, being a formidable fiddler and tasteful guitarist, the instrumental segment of the mix is in good hands. He then added enough to simply punctuate the song, and no more.
What does all of this have to do with the real world? I don't know. But the bottom line here is that Mike Cross has produced another stellar collection of first-rate original songs and I'll probably have to listen to another version of Rocky Top Tonite.