The Beachwood Sparks

Often dismissed by critics as talented but unoriginal throwbacks to California psychedelic country of the ‘60s, the Beachwood Sparks nevertheless make some sweet, tripped-out folk here on their second full-length. While definitely calling to mind Graham Parsons-era Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers (the group uses the ‘60s formula, even down to the studio touches, with heavy reverb lending the recording a ghostly air), the Sparks do attempt to update into modern frameworks many of the impressionist lullabies here—and it works well, thanks to the strength of the tunes.

Recorded at J. Mascis’ studio, Bob’s Place, in Northampton, Mass. (J. adds a little guitar here and there), the songs are full of love for that golden California sound (the so-called “muses of John Steinbeck and John Phillips"), simple truths, exquisite harmonies and flowery bluegrass married to alt-country rock. One of the many pleasant surprises here is a moving cover of Sade’s recent hit “By Your Side,” completely transformed from smooth R&B to a lovely country ballad, with vocalist Chris Gunst sounding off with an emotional earnestness akin to The Band’s Rick Danko in his prime.