It’s been nine years since we last heard from Beachwood Sparks; the LA outfit split back in 2003. OK, so they’ve been hooking up for some live dates since 2008, but finally we have a new record to spin.
Gram Parsons once pushed The Byrds towards country with their now legendary Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. And when I listen to Beachwood Sparks I hear a pop band, a real 60’s-coated pop band, with an alt-country dress-code. It’s all over their sun-kissed harmonies, every one like a postcard from LA’s golden age of rock.
The Tarnished Gold starts with a low-key intro, Forget the Song, which feels like a vocalised version of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, and then we hit the road with Sparks Fly Again, an apt title if ever I’ve heard one. Call and return vocals bathe in the upbeat breeze, while pedal steels and light drums keep it rolling in true retro style. The band aren’t back to push the boundaries of music, rather just revel in fresh material about past experiences. It feels real.
The title track hones in on Gram Parsons’ solo career; the vocal, like Parsons, encapsulating an ‘on the verge of heartbreak’ quality. The song feels reflective, life’s lessons learnt, and the music’s all the better for it.
Yet however able Beachwood Sparks are, they still frustrate with their insistence to drop in tracks like The Orange Grass Special, which comes across like a self-indulgent jam, solely there to demonstrate how fast their musical fingers can move.
Overall this is a good record, admittedly submerged in the past, but put together by a seasoned group with life’s experiences as their guide. Surely that’s got to count for something.