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Published: 2012/08/15
by Sam Robertson

Beachwood Sparks
The Tarnished Gold

Sub Pop

It’s hard to know what to expect when a band reunites for their first album in eleven years. When that band is Beachwood Sparks, who existed for only a few short years and created just two full-length albums together, it feels inappropriate to use a word like reunion that suggests they are grizzled seventy-year old rock and roll veterans. Beachwood Sparks were hardly around long enough to make a name for themselves, and though they never quite achieved popular success, their jangly sound spearheaded a full on California country rock revival that flourishes today with bands like the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Dawes, Vetiver and Jonathan Wilson.

Leaning heavily on fellow Californians from an older generation, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers in particular, Beachwood Sparks are clearly inspired by the early seventies glory days of Los Angeles and the Laurel Canyon sound. Though dozens of bands have followed their footsteps in recent years, around the turn of the century Beachwood Sparks were just about the only band who dared to mix dusty Americana with liquid psychedelic touches.

From the first seconds of album opener “Forget The Song,” it’s clear that the band hasn’t strayed far from that sound eleven years later. With acoustic strumming, shimmering electric and pedal steel guitar licks and those airy California harmonies, “Forget The Song” perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Sparks Fly For You” follows and formally announces the return of Beachwood Sparks with a chorus of “May the sparks fly again for you.” A piece of rambling country rock drenched with Jerry Garcia-inspired swirling bursts of guitar, the song shows that the band is back flying high. Beachwood Sparks wear their influences on their sleeve, and build on the lazy, psychedelic folk of American Beauty and David Crosby’s woefully overlooked gem If I Could Remember My Name.

The original core of Beachwood Sparks – guitarist Chris Gunst, bassist Brent Rademaker and multi-instrumentalist “Farmer” John Scher – remain intact for The Tarnished Gold, but the band is augmented in the studio by former member, guitarist Neal Casal and pedal steel guitarist Dan Horne. Between a consistently underrated solo career, a long stint in Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and current gigs with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Phil Lesh, Casal is an experienced treasure of the California music scene, and the subtle but cosmic interplay between his guitar and Horne’s gentle pedal steel adds plenty of lush color and character to Gusnt’s songs. Casal’s soaring solo on “Sparks Fly Again” is a definite highlight, but the pair shine throughout the album.

With the exception of the Spanish oddity “No Queremos Oro,” there is about as much diversity on this album as there is in Los Angeles’ weather. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like it’s hard to get tired of sunny, breezy 80-degree days, it’s hard to get tired of Beachwood Sparks’ soothing vocal harmonies and pleasant country rock. These aren’t explosive or particularly creative rock songs that will immediately grab your attention, but it will be a challenge to stop listening once you let them soak in. Hippie anthem “Water From The Well” sounds straight off of the Easy Rider soundtrack, and the banjo charm of “Talk About Lonesome” is irresistible. Beachwood Sparks may have a throwback sound, but it’s a throwback to the golden days of rock and roll, and The Tarnished Gold finds the band sounding like they didn’t missed a beat during their decade apart.

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