Christopher Cross made history with his 1980 self-titled debut album, winning five GRAMMY Awards, including—for the first time ever—the four most prestigious awards: Record of the Year (for the single “Sailing”), Album of the Year, Song of the Year (also for “Sailing”), and Best New Artist. Now, 30+ years after his extraordinary emergence into the music business, Cross continues his recording and performing career with a new album, Secret Ladder, which evokes the artistry of such great singer-songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman while addressing contemporary concerns head-on – a combination which is sure to please his loyal fan base.
Indeed, the 13 tracks, mostly written with his longtime collaborator Rob Meurer, continues the exploration of adult subject matter broached in his preceding album Doctor Faith (2011). “My passion and commitment to music haven’t diminished a bit, and I make no apologies for exploring mature subjects,” says the San Antonio native, now living in Austin after decades in Southern California.
“Of course, I’m still a romantic at heart,” adds Cross, whose classic hits – including “Ride Like the Wind”, and the Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from the film starring Liza Minelli and Dudley Moore – remain staples on radio to this day. This romantic side is readily evident on Secret Ladder songs like “Simple,” in which he elicits the tuneful sense of love and serenity that marked “Sailing.” But from the album’s first song, Cross evinces a sharpened focus in addition to his magic melodic touch.
As always, Cross enlisted the finest support musicians, including bassist Will Lee (of the Fab Faux and Late Night with David
Letterman), drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan and Toto), guitarist Eric Johnson, saxophonist David Mann, and vocalists Michael McDonald and Jeff Foskett (Brian Wilson’s musical director). “Eric and Michael are usually on every record I make,” says Cross, and in McDonald’s case, he joins Cross vocally on the poignant and uplifting anthem, “Light the World,” which also features an African chorus alternating the lyrics in Swahili. “I have travelled to Africa with my kids, my daughter was a youth AIDS ambassador,” explains Cross. “She helped with testing in a village in Tanzania and spent another week in Kenya. I was very touched by the people I encountered there. I wrote the song with Stephen Bray who is a close friend and a wonderful collaborator. He worked with Madonna early in her career and composed music for The Color Purple on Broadway. For the Swahili chorus, we enlisted the assistance of the interpreter we had in Africa who was the head of African Studies at UCLA. It is really a magical component to the song. You feel like you know what they’re saying, even though you don’t.”
While Cross is an avowed pacifist, he is a big supporter of those who serve in the armed forces. Secret Ladder includes the late-added track, “We Will Remember You,” as a means of honoring their service. “My father was an Army doctor and my mother, a nurse,” he says. “I feel strongly that returning vets and those who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve to be recognized and never forgotten. The song itself is neither pro- nor anti-war. The children’s choir really enhances the message. We recorded it after the album was finished, but I felt that it definitely needed to be included.”