On this co-release from Marriage Records, labelmates the Viking Moses and Spenking present a complementary collection of original folk songs on two records. The Viking Moses is the stage name of musician Brendon Massei, who has toured extensively with Devendra Banhart and Cat Power, among others, and is known for his raucous, energetic live show. This is in stark contrast to the gentle, quiet material on Crosses, a sparse, evocative album which was recorded in a bar in Chicago where Massei was working. The album itself tells the story of a love between the singer and "Emma," with whom Massei says he "fell in love on the railroad tracks." The beauty of Crosses lies in its simplicity. Both the opening and closing songs quote a melody from the Sunday school hymn "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore," and "Little Emma's Smile" brings to mind nursery school rhymes ("I love the buzzing and the honey bee/God made the honey bee and God made me/I leave the sleepy bear where he be/God made the sleepy bear far from me"). This is echoed in the instrumentation: only a toy guitar, an occasional piano, bass, and vocal harmonies were used; most of the power rests in Massei's singing. This simplicity is also a weakness -- it limits the melodies and depth of the lyrics -- but for the most part the album carries itself well, telling a story of a love found and then left. For all the religious symbolism found in Crosses, Spenking offers a different, albeit folksy, stance. Gone is the saccharine romanticism. Instead one finds a harsher view of life. Singer Spencer Kingman, the eponym of Spenking, writes songs ranging from life in Las Vegas to Al Jazeera, and they complement Massei's pieces well, continuing the simple, guitar-picked melodies, and then adding more complex lyrics, patterns, and rhythms. Kingman's tendency to slip out of tune when he holds notes and the lack of diversity in chord progressions can be a little tedious (not that the same can't be said about Massei's work, as well), but perhaps that's all part of the earthy charm that makes this co-release so appealing.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2