Album Review: Savage On The Downhill by Amber Cross

Amber Cross' album cover

Savage On The Downhill by Amber Cross

You can hear venom in the resolute guitar part and it becomes clear that this is not a traditional cheating song that the traditional country sound harkens back to. The narrator is responsible, not the injured party: “pack of lies/barking dogs rule the moonless night/pretending to love is a wicked game/I made this bed where I lie in shame.” She’s seeking to change things but it’s not quite clear how as things have evidently been wrong for a while.

Amber Cross

Eagle & Blue is a slow shuffle through a home town where nothing ever changes, except that everything has changed. An old man is missing and local girl had a baby while others have moved away. The singer reminisces about love songs and dances from a time that’s long gone. It’s a bitter echo of the remembered Bodie Wagner poem that proclaimed love is a flower: “the snow flower bloomed in your heart/what can I do to reach out to you/and keep us from drifting apart?”

The title track, Savage On the Downhill, is pretty accurate about the sentiment within: “I’m a hawkeye on a sparrow/I will find your game.” It’s matter of a fact in message and delivery. The phrase refers to how a tracker should carry their rifle when climbing down a hill; all perfectly normal for a backwoods woman like Cross.

Amber Cross

Leaving Again is a classic country shuffle. It has a rather poetic description of wanderlust: “I took back my heart/tore me up inside.” It turns out to be a move of self-protection: “I don’t wanna get close/not this time.” Like in the opening track, the narrator is conscious of the hurt that’s being caused, but she still must leave.

Conversely Echoes is about staying behind with empty nest syndrome: “out of the stillness comes a question, begs an answer/with just you and I will this house still be a  home?” As the pedal steel haunts the song, the narrator is ready to adjust rather than flee: “I’m fighting for my sweetheart/sunny day darling/I’m fighting for my lover and my friend.” Cross’ vocal delivery becomes equally resolute.

Trinity Gold Mine is an interesting and intriguing fingerpicked song: “the girls I like don’t give their time/they think I’m weird/they’re probably right.” The narrator is mysterious and unsettling: “I can’t look you in the eye/and when I leave I don’t say goodbye/friends say I’m a real nice guy but they don’t know about me.”

Photo of Amber Cross with a bleached animal skull

Tracey Joe gives a poignant picture of abandonment through the story of a photograph: “got a picture of the family when he was only 3/ the only on ever taken that included me/he was holding my hand/standing next to his Dad/on the day that he left us.” A succession of bad men followed, with the mother relying on the son for emotional support: “sing me to sleep Tracey Joe/so your mama don’t feel so all alone.” It’s a tragic song as she had to let him go, putting him on a train from Duluth to Winnipeg to let him escape that life. She later heard he may be a train driver on that same route, but she’s never seen him again.

The traditional country sound, this time with a Celtic lilt, continues in Storms of Scarcity. It’s an atmospheric tune of sorrow and perseverance: “come sit by my side and wipe your weeping eyes/these hard times are more than I can bear…somehow I’ll get through with you by my side.”

It’s resolutely American country as Cross describes and imagines home life on the mesa, exploring “hills that run deep into my bones/I know the secrets they keep.” There’s just time for one final slowburner in Love Freighter’s Wail.

Without seeing Amber Cross, you’d think she’s several decades older than she is. She’s steeped in the country heritage of her predecessors and the heritage of her country. With this release, she’s sure she’s captured the Western sound she was looking for by working with producer Ray Bonneville, having heard the sound she’d been searching for in his work with Chuck Hawthorne. He also performed guitar, backing vocal and harp duties.

Savage On The Downhill is out now. 

Photos by Barry Goyette.