The story of HSSS was well-chronicled because of the unique genesis for the project. That album began as a series of e-mails, letters, and phone calls the two exchanged as they both encountered difficult ordeals in their professional and personal lives.
The iconography of The Crossroads is profoundly woven into the story of the blues but it's also a universal metaphor. I try very hard not to let pronouns cause me to assume all songs are autobiographical, no matter how personal the lyrics may be. HSSS is certainly about people at a crossroad and at its heart is a love story in trying times. The title Beyond The Crossroads suggested it was prepared to answer the question "what happened next?"
As with HSSS, both contribute songs written separately as well as a handful they did together. They trade lead vocals and harmonize and split lead guitar duties. The lovers in our story are still dealing with their crossroads but their present has given them a new prism through which to view the troubles of the past.
The record opens with "We're Going To Make It," an original song but one that follows the footsteps Little Milton's 1965 Chess classic. Falling in love is an intrinsic part of the human condition but believing in it in these hard times takes a special resolve. The couple in this song is fully aware of the risks, challenges, and work yet remain bonded by love and their faith in it and each other. Having traveled many miles together, they can see and admit how unlikely it was for anything to come of it at all and why they believe they're going to make it.
What's interesting about Beyond The Crossroads is that it's a sequel that works like a prequel, looking at who these people were before they met and where they are now, having come through the trials of HSSS.
"More Than I Bargained For" speaks of a man not fool enough to get caught up in the fools' game of love. Our heroine stacked the deck, played the field, and had her fun without ever letting anyone get too close. It takes one to know one, so what happens when these two meet? Do they quickly head in opposite directions or does this seem like an ideal, risk-free pairing with the possibility for a whole lot of the bad kind of fun? Is it possible this unlikely pairing could discover "love can be something real"?
Foley's excellent "Resistance" puts more flesh and detail into the character she sketched in "More Than I Bargained For," acknowledging the only obstacle between the Her and that love that's real is her resistance to it.
"Fine Love" does the same for the He character. Where She is resistant, He is perhaps more damaged by the circumstance of his past and has been slower to heal but the miles this love has carried them gives them both faith it has something more to give.
"We're Gonna Make It" sets the table for the record the way "Treat Me Right" did for He Said She Said but the mission statement and heart of the record comes on Karp's title track. Life's a one-way street, kids, and someday the slate is going to be wiped clear. It moves forward with or without our permission and we all have to get beyond the crossroads if we want to do and experience anything special between now and the end. Once again faith in love comes into play but not necessarily romantic love as Karp urges us "when you fall to your knees and can't get back up/Reach out for a hand to pull you up."
The title track distills the album to its core but "Blowin'" is perhaps the album's highlight. Love is strong and true but to borrow a line from Mark Lanegan, "Living's not hard, it's just not easy." The character in this song sounds a lot like the man at the beginning of Dylan's "Things Have Changed": "a worried man with a worried mind." Karp is a treasured lyricist but he keeps his prose spare, allowing his ability to vocally inhabit the workaday, blue collar everyman to fill the spaces and Foley's harmony vocal provides just the right warmth- the hope in the face of weariness.
That's a lot of heavy for one record and it's all brilliantly executed but there's also a sense of fun and humor to be found. Foley channels one of her blues heroes, "Mempis" Minnie, on "Take Your Time." Karp smirks and wisecracks his way through the boogie woogie "Chance of Rain," and the album ends with the rollicking "You've Got A Problem."
I'm going to chicken out answering my question about whether or not Beyond The Crossroads is a sequel; it's an interesting question and tantalizing possibility but musically irrelevant because the stories in these songs stand on their own. You should have heard He Said She Said first but that's just because it's an incredible album. You won't be lost if you start here but you'll want to hear its predecessor and, like me, you'll be looking forward to a third chapter.