Dave Crossland


Second Beginnings

Second Beginnings

fiery and alluring...epic and confessional

Some people are lucky enough to get second chances in life, but few are ever granted second beginnings. That's exactly how life feels for Somerville singer-songwriter Dave Crossland, though, as he releases his new CD, the fiery and alluring "Molly's Street," on his own Roadmonkey label. It is his first recording since 1992, since the beginning of the bad times.

Crossland was then counted among the most promising voices in the Boston folk scene. The Akron, Ohio, native had climbed from open stage habitue to headliner. His peers then, Ellis Paul, Dar Williams, Catie Curtis, Barbara Kessler, and Vance Gilbert, all went on to national success. He seemed to be rising right along with them.

Crossland's songs could be as reflective as those of his peers, but they had a naturalistic sweep, a panoramic Americanism, that set them apart. He staked his turf in the way he collided his own experience against this American landscape. His best songs are somehow both epic and confessional.

"I've always had a real deep love and respect for this country," he said during an interview in the kitchen of his apartment outside Davis Square. "I don 't mean the government or the American way or anything, but a sense of wonder about what makes Americans the way they are, this remarkable blend of naivete and cynicism, idealism and disillusionment. When I write, I tap into my own experiences and compare them to the pictures of life I had when I was a child. Growing up in Ohio, which is sort of equal parts breadbasket and industrial heartland, you wonder how the American myth fits into how these people really live."

Crossland loved folk music long before he knew there were careers to be had in it. His father, a political science professor, loved to throw huge hootenannies at their house.

"I was brought up in the middle of this mayhem of music," he said. "All the grownups would be banging away on guitars and singing anything from old blues tunes to goofy pop songs from the '60s to old traditional Irish ballads. It was a real communal kind of thing, not a performance, but a get-together. They were good times for a kid, and as I got older, I got more interested in what the grownups were singing. So I've always been drawn to music about real people and real situations."

When his parents divorced and his mother remarried a news reporter, Crossland discovered the solace of music. His placid Ohio life was uprooted as he moved to Kentucky and then to Washington, D.C. He recalled hours pacing circles in his room, singing songs he remembered from the old hootenannies, which he still enjoyed when he visited his father. He began playing the guitar and was soon making up his own songs.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, he moved to Cohasset, where his mother had resettled. Already a headliner at the legendary Ark Coffeehouse in his college town of Ann Arbor, he rose quickly through the local folk ranks.

His orderly and promising life soon began to fall apart. His mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told she would be dead in six months. She lived for eight more years.

"I felt my career was going great the first few years," he said. "I was working a lot, even touring some, making some money. My first CD was doing well. But a lot of the people I had started out with were getting attention from agents and record labels. I was spending more and more time at home, taking care of my mom and two younger brothers. I guess I wasn't even aware of how much further ahead of me they were getting."

Then his mother needed surgery and her health deteriorated. He left his music career to take care of the family full time. He declined to discuss still-painful details, but made it clear that, to borrow from Dylan Thomas, his mother did not go gently into that good night, and that when she raged, he raged right along with her.

He teared up several times when the subject got close to those wrenching memories, saying only that, after she died in 1996, he needed to take a year off for himself.

He also slowly began putting together his new CD. His wispy tenor has grown to a sinewy baritone, and some of the rage and anguish of his last few years can be felt in the songs.

What is the same, happily, is his trademark testing of the American dream against the American reality, along with a nervy willingness to mine both the light and dark corners of his interior life, and a sure, spacious sense of melody.

He reentered the local folk scene, but found it a very different place from the one he left just a few years ago.

"It feels kind of a like a gold rush," he said. "There're so many people trying to be songwriters now. When I was starting out, there weren't nearly as many, and we weren't as conscious of the business part of it as they are today. We'd all go to the same open mikes, and it was very competitive, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. But one thing it did was to push everybody to write better songs. The mindset was much more on the music, just trying to knock everybody dead with a song.

"Now it's like there's a template for a songwriter career. There's a lot more emphasis on having the right promo kit, building a mailing list and a Web site. Part of the thinking now is that if you're looking for a manager or a label, you should already be in a position where you're handling all those things fine yourself. You've taken your business to a level that it's now time for a buyout. What that tends to do is encourage artists to focus on the business instead of the music."

In this crowded scene, Crossland finds himself fighting for stage time as he never had to before. His previous years in the saddle don't count for as much as they should amid all the hungry new voices vying to be heard. Having gotten through several difficult years, he exploded into laughter at the notion that these obstacles might foster some bitterness in him.

"These are great problems," he said. "These are the best problems in the world to have. How do I get my CD on the radio, how do I get noticed? I mean, I 've had so much to deal with, and now it's like the road is clear for the first time. I don't know what's up ahead, but I know there's nothing in the way. The great thing the last few years gave me was perspective. I'm going to go out there and try harder than I ever did before, but I know now that it's not life and death. It's just life."  For more on Crossland, visit his Web at . He is scheduled to perform at Club Passim in Cambridge Aug. 21.