Cross'n Over (I Eat Records)
Former Orange Mothers leader Ethan Azarian's second solo album eases further along on a path of musical maturation far removed from the Hollywood Indians' "flyer wars." Improbable as it would've seemed from the perspective of a 1991 campus-area telephone pole, this one-time raconteur from Vermont has become an entirely respectable Austin singer/songwriter/painter. While some songwriters turn inward for subject material, Azarian wholeheartedly embraces well-trod universal themes of love, death, and rebirth without the crutches of irony or melodrama. With everyday language and his unassuming, guy-next-door voice, Azarian uses Cross'n Over as a platform to keep listeners from glossing over the miraculous nature of existence. The title track is a gospel-folk meditation on the afterlife accentuated by Gary Newcomb's fragile pedal steel. Part children's song, part slice-of-life ethereality, "Winter" overflows with magical, keen-eyed naturalist observations like the kind John Denver made his bones with. "Reaching Out" paints a sorrowful world in which everyone is lost, but Azarian maintains steadfast optimism in the final verse, finding hope in the struggle itself. While such sentiments could've easily come off as overly obvious platitudes in the wrong hands, Azarian writes like someone who only came to them after paying due diligence to the abyss, and that's what makes it work.
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