The Phantom Tollbooth

Look Both Ways/Rise and Go
Artist: The Crossing
Label: Grrr Records/Kingsway (UK)
Length: 16/69.10

It was over ten years ago, in 1988, that the Crossing first committed their explorations in traditional Irish music to tape. In the time since, they have become one of the few U.S.-based acts to win accolades from Irish folk-purists for their tight jigs, reels, and ballads on several acclaimed releases. Last year Jesus People USA's Grrr Records packaged together these two recordings from 1988 and 1990 onto one CD to help those fans who were not fortunate enough to pick these up when they first slipped out to the dancing faithful.

The low-budget nature of the recordings is obvious as the first strains of "Kesh Jig" from Look Both Ways slip from the speakers. The whole package has a lo-fi feel but if this traditional music relied on high technology it would have lost its earthy quality. So it is that the questions of recording quality soon pass by, and we are left with the plaintive vocals of Tony Krogh and the intricate instrumentation of the band to keep our ears open and our feet tapping.

The arrangements here are not as tight as more recent material and the instrumentation is not quite as diverse. The looseness is particularly evident in the vocals, and first came to my notice on the harmonies in "What Will Ye Do." Some people may actually like this loose quality to the vocal harmonies, and it is not unusual on folk recordings, but it is an area where the band has grown and developed.

The lyrics generally look through the lens of the band's Christianity at a number of social concerns, from poverty to the troubles in Ireland, but occasionally turn to look directly at Christ's life on earth. The music is well-suited to storytelling and is used to good effect. While the poetry is not honed as finely as it could be, the combination of original and older tracks exude a certain charm, which, like the album, is o't held back by the lack of polish.

"Rise Ye Up and Go" is a simple song of devotion to Christ, using the idiom of a battle march. It is also a prime example of this album's charm.The instrumentation is largely guitar and whistle, but it is infectious and passionate:

This would not be the best of starting points to explore the Crossing's music unless you are convinced that very raw folk music is what you want. But this is an album completists will not want to be without, and is worthy of a place in many collections.

James Stewart  (4/26/1999)

It wouldn't be a Cornerstone Festival for many without the lively tunes of The Crossing. Their combination of traditional and original compositions on authentic Irish and Scottish instruments is always a welcome break from the hard rock the annual festival is known for. Before the head-bangers moshed to reels and dirges, Jesus People USA community members Tony Knogh and Pat Peterson spent years mastering the British Isle folk sound with their friends. The Crossing's two earliest recordings, re-issued on a single CD, are an opportunity for their fans to complete their collection with a work that is closer in feeling to their live show than their later, more polished studio projects. This is a well-balanced collection of instrumentals and ballads.

Linda Stonehocker  (6/98)