Sound: Hancock County's own, Chris Ross impresses again with his second studio album "Halfway To Wonderland". Recorded in March, in Nashville, there is far more of a country sound to this album. But Chris' soft but raspy voice, and wonderfully written lyrics shine through once again.
Many of the same people who assisted with Chris' first album ("The Steady Stumble") return on "Halfway To Wonderland", including recording and mixing engineer Ben Strano and producer Jack Sundrud. Steel guitar, electric guitar and banjo on the album were handled by Russ Pahl, a Nashville musician who has contributed to albums by Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert, Brooks & Dunn, Gretchen Wilson, Buddy Miller, Montgomery Gentry and many more.
1. "You Oughta Be" - "In the morning maybe we can lay together, like white lines, on the turnpike." A Line that Ross himself said he'd had swimming around in his head for a long time, starts the album out after a mid tempo acoustic riff. Drums, bass, and steel guitar all fill out the sound nicely. The lyrics are about all the things a girl who was previously in the singers life should have been.
2. "Maybe It's Me" - A song about coming to the conclusion that things are over. Fiddle and drums start playing as the guitar part picks up the pace into the main chord progression after a slow riff. Some great lyrics in this tune, such as: "Our love it starts in the middle and dances in the air like a Martin and Fiddle" and: "Our song is born in desire, far out of reach from that Heavenly choir".
3. "She Never Stays Gone" - Written between "Maybe It's Me", and "Your America". This is a song about being caught up in a person even though you know the relationship is doomed to fail. Pretty mid-tempo song starting with a guitar riff and a drum beat, as for most of the album, steel guitar is in the background every once in a while. This song isn't really one of my favorites on the album, definitely not a bad song though.
4. "Mostly Sober" - This is a song that Chris has called "a science experiment", making every syllable have a purpose. A song about hiding the fact that the singer is depressed about a relationship ending. A lot of very clever lines in this song, kinda wordy though, and not the easiest song to sing and play. The chorus is very well written though:
"So don't believe the hype or the flowin' hyperbole
Mighta done the crime but I never did the perjury
Wait for the dust cloud to settle on the rhetoric
Even if you rush now you'll never get ahead of it
Tip my cup
I tip my cup over no I ain't got luck
I'm just a three leaf
And I keep my feet on the narrow and the straight
And I ain't too stoned to say
I'm mostly sober these days"
I really like this song, one of my favorites from "Wonderland".
5. "Fallin' Apart" - Acoustic riff followed by drums and an organ. "Fallin' Apart" is about falling in and out of love with a person but not knowing what to do about it. Pretty country sounding tune, definitely sounds like a single if one was to be released.
6. "Lost In Love" - Another appearance from the organ, "Lost In Love" is almost R&B sounding, written from a womans perspective. Chris plays jazzier sounding 7th chords in this tune. Chris (again from a womans perspective) is "singing about this character which is really every girl I've ever known who's had a rough go at relationships."
7. "Your America" - I can almost compare this song to Hero of War by Rise Against. It's about the hell that the aftermath of war can create in a persons homelife. Very slow, somber song about a man who "Wised up real quick to the workin's of the real world and joined up with Old Uncle Sam" only to return home with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and lose his family.
8. "Jack & Jill (Bottom Of My Grave)" - This song reminds me of "All The Way Down", or "Grew Up Young" from "The Steady Stumble". It's about a young couple who get into drugs and run away to Mexico, (stopping in Las Vegas to get married). This song also contains the title to the album in a line: "Up so high, Halfway to Wonderland, Jack don't mind, never had a better plan". Originally posted on YouTube the night it was written, Chris Ross sang the song almost twice as fast as the studio version. In the studio, he was running through the song late at night, the night before recording it and decided to lower the key and slow it down.
9. "I Lied" - Written the day before going into the studio, "I Lied" was written to say "I've messed up plenty of stuff too". While being a sad song, it does end on a positive note: "And all at once it was so easy, forgiveness comes to all in time, I swore I'd never know it's grace, but I lied". A single acoustic riff is played almost throughout the entire song.
10. "Last Last Call" - Like "Stay A Little Longer" on his debut, "Last Last Call" is a perfect closer. A very country sounding song about a choice... The music, or the relationship? In his own words "There's never been a more country-sounding title than 'Last Last Call'. But it's more like the Gram Parsons-style of country than anything else." Piano, drums, and fiddle are used a lot in this song. Again, not a favorite, but still a pretty great song, and a wonderful way to close "Wonderland". // 9
Lyrics: As in his debut, Chris Ross definitely shines as a songwriter. The music he write for each song fits perfectly, even with the more full sound of this CD. Still with the same gravelly, yet soft voice, Chris' voice fits each song as perfectly as his guitar or any other instrument played on the album. // 10
Overall Impression: Again, Springsteen and Ray Lamontagne are big influences on Chris Ross. The most impressive songs on the album? If I was forced to choose a top 3... I'd say "Your America", "Mostly Sober", and "I Lied" (in no particular order). I love the album, although I do disagree with Chris' decision to slow "Jack & Jill" down (the YouTube version is way more fun sounding haha). I could find this album in a local music store, so I'd certainly buy it again if it were stolen. // 9