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Album of the week : The Tarnished Gold - Beachwood Sparks

Beachwood Sparks came out of nowhere in 2000 with their self-titled debut album. They were both a throwback, and, from a 2012 perspective, ahead of the wave. In the early naughties, the band of former college-radio friends single-handedly revived a laid back, country-rocking West Coast sound famously pioneered in the late ’60s by Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers

The band’s spacier second album, Once We Were Trees, flirted with psychedelia. And by the decidedly offbeat 2003 EP Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, the band seemed to have run its course—and it was left to the likes of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear to win over the indie masses with CSNY harmonies and flower-power earnestness in folk-rock 2.0, all territory the Sparks had well under control

But now it seems that the time is right for an album that stands as the purest expression of this hallowed form to appear in the 21st century, as the planets at long last align for this single-minded band. The Tarnished Gold is so Californian that it’s meant to be played on a Sunday afternoon, under cobalt blue skies and smelling the night-blooming jasmine on a perfect spring day in Los Angeles

The Tarnished Gold is the work of the classic Beachwood Sparks lineup: singer/guitarist Chris Gunst, singer/bassist Brent Rademaker, singer/multi-instrumentalist Farmer Dave Scher, and drummer Aaron Sperske, with invaluable support from a whole host of top LA session men and women. Once We Were Trees producer Thom Monahan returned to his familiar spot behind the console. The album finds the band’s chemistry as strong as ever, pushing themselves to make a memorable record

Despite the 11 years between albums, the West Coasters are none the worse for wear on The Tarnished Gold. It’s less tied down to an era, less self-consciously stylized, less hazy than much of what the band has done before. The album brilliantly references the reunion itself in the band’s familiar mode with album opener ‘Forget the Song’, with Gunst singing, “It’s time to stop pretending; those days are gone,” and in the Byrds-y ‘Sparks Fly Again’, in which Farmer Dave Scher tells us, “Music is our home to return to.”

Gunst’s tunes like ‘Leave the Light On’ marry FM-radio-worthy hooks with lyrics inspired by the Golden State’s natural beauty. Bassist Brent Rademaker takes you to a haunting place on ‘Mollusk’, and home-cooked outings such as ‘The Orange Special’ have snappy pedal-steel licks that make them lively bookends. ‘Earl Jean’ combines country rhythms with soft jangle of electric guitars, like the Byrds in their Clarence Whyte era; ‘Talk About Lonesome’ sounds like a ballad Neil Young wrote for Johnny Cash in 1972, then forgot about. The gorgeous harmonies of ‘Water From The Well’ suggest that the band regret their long absence while still recognising the intrinsic values of the simple life. The mariachi diversion ‘No Queremos Oro’ just adds to the pleasure

“We’re treading in areas that we never thought we’d go on this record,” says Rademaker. “It’s great to be making the kind of music that I like with my best friends and favorite musicians. The triumph was not only that it came out so listenable and good but also that we made the most of just being together. And if this turns out to be the last Beachwood Sparks record, we can take satisfaction in the fact that we went out on a high note. At any rate, I know I’ll be listening to this record for the rest of my life.”

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