Vermont's acoustic quartet Atlantic Crossing have just released their fourth CD in eight years, Turning the Compass. In between records, the group has played numerous contra dances and concerts throughout the Northeast, even touring Great Britain a few times. The band's latest proves their longevity is paying off musically.
Turning was recorded at Williston's Ad Astra Studios - a favorite among area folkies - with engineer Peter Engisch. This is the first AC release not produced by respected local musician Pete Sutherland; this time, band members took on the task themselves.
Twin fiddlers Viveka Fox and Peter MacFarlane and mandolin/tenor banjo wizard Brian Perkins swoop and swarm like a flock of musical birds on this eight-tune set, which features both traditional and original numbers. Rhythm man Rick Klein lays out a rock-solid foundation, with guest bassist Mitch Barron lending the occasional hand.
Fox and MacFarlane sound like one big, beautiful bowed instrument on a set of Swedish waltzes. Their shimmering, dance-friendly sound wouldn't sound out of place on that country's Dalarna dales.
In addition to the instrumentals, the CD features six vocal numbers, including three original compositions by Fox that all concern local history. Several of the musical turns on "The Wreck of the Troy" call to mind "La Maquisarde," another lovely Fox composition from AC's 2000 release, Full and Away. The singular "Rumrunner Blues" is a beatnik-jazz number about smuggling hooch in the Champlain Valley.
The album also includes a few gems from the collection of Vermont folklorist Helen Hartness Flanders, as well as the old-time chestnut "Fiddler's Green."
Vocalists Klein and Perkins both have quirky pipes, and at times their singing style eclipses the material. The most effective vocals are on "McDonough's Fleet," another Fox original about War of 1812 hero Thomas MacDonough. Equally strong is "Clinton County Jail." Each features more than one voice, singing either in harmony or in unison.
Turning the Compass represents a step forward for an already seasoned band. Its sparkling sound and performances hint at even more to come.