A Vivoscene Feature Review by Brian Miller
Vivoscene rating 8.7
Eleven years is an eternity in the world of popular music, but Beachwood Sparks makes a scintillating return to the studio with their new release The Tarnished Gold. Sounding for all the world like the model for Band of Horses, Wye Oak, Bon Iver, The Decemberists, and a dozen other would-be Americana artists, the album shimmers with authenticity, gorgeous harmonies and superb musicianship. It’s as if they’d never left, and with this album perhaps they never will.
Their first recording back in the late 90s brought comparisons to Gram Parsons and The Byrds, and despite widespread clamouring for their work, since 2002 the group has put their talents to other projects. Co-founder Christopher Gunst formed Mystic Chords of Memory. Bassist Brent Rademaker, sometimes with Gunst and guitarist Dave Scher, played in The Tyde and also in Frausdots. Drummer Jimi Hey and Scher released an album as All Night Radio. In March 2007, Scher was recruited as touring keyboard player for New York indie rockers Interpol. Replacement drummer Aaron Sperske joined Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and sometime later Jimi Hey returned to the fold. Lineup changes abounded and eventually the 2012 album came to be. If this record is any indication that less is more, then those who are bent on recording an album every few months should wake up to the example of Beachwood Sparks.
The instrumentation is sparse throughout, evoking an early 70s country psychedelia feel, with some brilliant steel guitar, acoustic finger-picking and lonesome harmonica. The album could have made on a summer veranda amidst sparkling sunshine after staying up all night listening to the classic sounds of Sweetheart of The Rodeo or Grievous Angel.
You can stream the entire album The Tarnished Gold here:
Key tracks include “Sparks Fly Again” , an obvious tribute to the joys of playing together once again, with its brilliant fretwork a highlight in the extended construction and flashy drawn-out modernistic finish. The title number ‘Tarnished Gold” recalls the best work of Gram and Emmylou precisely, with its mixture of sorrowful lyric and new-found wisdom. “Water From The Well” is everything Band of Horses wishes it could be and almost is. And “Talk About Lonesome” defies emotional gravity; it will bring you down and simultaneously lift you up in the time-honoured tradition of great country music. The closer “Goodbye” is a heart-breaker, two minutes of ineffable sadness that will stay with you.
The Tarnished Gold is a low-key, mood-infested masterpiece of subtlety that sounds more cheerful than it is, but it’s a record that will last. The master of this genre, Gram Parsons, would be proud of the legacy he has inspired and engendered with his most notable heirs, Beachwood Sparks.
Watch: “Sparks Fly Again”