The trio called Cross Country was made up of three members from The Tokens, an early doo-wop band that scored a number one hit in 1962 with the most familiar version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The three singers later drop the doo-wop with 1973's Cross Country and instead opt for an autumn-inspired acoustic affair, which was released probably three or four years too late. This is pure Woodstock and Summer of Love music inspired heavily—and I mean heavily—by Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Association, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Emitt Rhodes and maybe even a bit of Terry Cashman.
That these guys were making music four or five years before any of those talents blossomed into mainstream popularity is irrelevant and it won't dissuade anyone from saying "this sounds like..." in a not-so positive way. On one hand the band is easy to criticize, not simply because of the sound-alike factor, but also because the lyrics are pretty trite and include some humorously dated imagery. On the weaker moments of Cross Country, there's something quite saccharine and superficial about both the music and the lyrics. This is no more true than on songs like "Just A Thought" and "Things With Wings" which are both on side one.
But side one of Cross Country has plenty of strong songs, too. These include the brilliant title-track, a beautiful cover of Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" and the gorgeous, majestic—but all too short—"Extended Wings," which seamlessly continues off of the previous track "Things With Wings."
The real treat is the near-perfect side two. There's still a Crosby, Stills and Nash influence, but the material is stronger—strong enough for the band to carve out an original territory. The Rubber Soul inspired "Tastes So Good To Me" could have been a top 40 hit. "A Fall Song" is soft and warm, but it doesn't fall into the same lyrical pitfalls as some of the softer songs do on side one. It is also gorgeous, both melodically and harmonically, and takes some unexpected turns with plenty of hidden details in the production to reward close listening. The same goes with the rest of tracks which are equally ambitious and beautiful.
The resulting album is maybe not as great as it could have been. Nevertheless, what is there makes for a minor masterpiece. I was happy taking this trip Cross Country. Recommended.
BONUS TRACK: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens