For album number three Luke Roberts trades musical intricacy for lyrical substance, as he recounts heavy-hearted narratives abroad with a soft indie backdrop.
Many may view Sunlit Cross as relatively simple and lacking in innovation, yet the emotion in Roberts’ voice resonates throughout, producing a comforting assortment of simple, alt-country songs. Roberts’ third record expresses his experiences, from heartbreak to wanderlust, when driving between New York and Nashville, living out of his car for weeks and eventually traveling to Kenya, where he was touched by a family’s daily challenges and their humble wishes. The songs are said to have originated there, and act as a ‘lullaby that pits darkness and disenchantment and the ugly side of life against levity, love and childhood’.
Roberts is joined by a roster of gifted talent throughout the album, from the likes of Kyle Spence, John Neff, Stephen Tanner and perhaps most recognisable, Kurt Vile. ‘Song to Remember’ opens the album, laden with acoustic guitar and an unfolding narrative that is highly reminiscent of Neil Young. Neff offers enchanting pedal steel riffs on the track ‘Run’, emphasised by scarce piano chords and drums in the latter half. Later appearing on ‘Virginia Girl’, Neff once more showcases his pedal prowess with immense rhythms that complement Roberts’ vision exceptionally. ‘American Music’ continues the gradual stride with what can only be described as ‘chilled out Southern Rock’, embracing an easy-going guitar melody: one envisions a sunny yet slightly hazy Sunday morning sat on the porch as Roberts’ lyrics reverberate, “We’re gonna put American music, in the heart of every child”.
The pace changes with the choral and invigorating ‘Silver Chain’, in which Kurt Vile sings backup vocals and plays the banjo. Reflecting on Roberts’ journey, you think he has reached a point of salvation as he explains, “Sell his neck to save his cheeks, to be your alibi”; yet the story takes a turn as he questions: “is there any other way for me to get across?”. This sense of perspective functions as a beautifully orchestrated presentation of the troubles and everyday confusion he faces. Roberts is quite possibly at his most thoughtful in ‘Untitled Blues’: the track fully apprehends the feeling of returning home after the vast experiences you have gathered on your travels.
Upon further listening, the album entertains somewhat of a conversation between Roberts and the listener. It is this aptitude to truly connect the two that makes Sunlit Cross resolutely authentic and raw, and one cannot help but feel, that as the record unfolds, Roberts gains a sense of self-identity and enlightenment.