California Cosmic (Country) Rock is alive and well! This term describes the mostly Westcoast-born combination of country rock with various ingredients like psychedelic, paisley underground, garage punk, alt.country, indie pop and Rickenbacker sounds, originating with cult figure Gram Parsons in the 1970ies. Parson Red Heads, a quartet from Portland/Oregon, have been one of the leading bands of the genre. Their current album Orb Weaver is a testament to their quality – certainly their most stringent, professional and most song-oriented album to date.
Although the band members are still quite young and have only been releasing material since 2006, they have a wealth of experiences to draw from. After starting in Eunice, Oregon they moved to L.A. where they lived for six years before returning to their home state to record Orb Weaver. This is their third full-length album after King Giraffe (2007) and Yearling (2011), two exquisite, if playful and at times experimental nuggets. The band’s back catalog further contains three EPs released between 2006 and 2012. Evan Way is the group’s bandleader and mastermind as main songwriter, singer & guitarist. Bassist Charlie Hester and guitarist/singer (and writer of two songs) Sam Fowles back him up. .
Orb Weaver is a huge step for the band with markedly better sound thanks to Scott McCaughey’s (Minus 5, Baseball Project, Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M.) production job and the beautifully transparent sound provided by engineer Adam Selzer (Norfolk & Western, M.Ward, She & Him, Builders & Butchers). The Parson Red Heads sound very westcoast with audio time travels through the late 60s and early 70s, a visit to 80s paisley pop and current No Depression sounds a la Dawes, Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, Vetiver, I See Hawks In L.A. The band manages to connect generations of music fans with their harmony-laden indie-pop-meets-folk-rock sounds which catapulted the likes of Jonathan Wilson or Father John Misty and their revitalized Laurel Canyon sound to worldwide success.
It’s no surprise that Evan Way and his friends namecheck these current influences in their statements but it’s also undeniable that they have been soaked up the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Love, Moby Grape and later acts like Windbreakers, R.E.M., Silos, Vulgar Boatmen, Green On Red und Long Ryders. All these influences have been incorporated and help explain their westcoast-oriented, vocal-harmony-driven sound as well as Way’s and Fowles’s beautiful jingle-jangle guitar interplay that is a constant on all ten tracks. It is particularly irresistible on the energetic, riff-driven opener “To The Sky” and the driving, joyous 7-minute finale “Give Yourself Away”. Between these two tracks, PRH cultivate loud guitar rock (“I Never Sleep”), byrdsy folk rock (“Every Mile”), high-flying power pop (“Borrow Your Car”), and cool, off-the-cuff jam rock (“Times”). They also remind us of early R.E.M. (“Runs Out”), the melodic psych pop of Three O’Clock (“Lost Again”), the 60s (“Small Change”) or the beautiful harmonies of CSN (“Beginning”) – a great overall package!
Certainly their time in L.A. has influenced the band’s wonderful development. Back in Portland, the Parson Red Heads are rocking the scene with formidable live gigs – and Orb Weaver is exactly the right album for that endeavour!
Orb Weaver will be available through the Blue Rose mailorder from August 30, at regular outlets from early September!