Pleasant renderings of familiar songs with a couple of hidden nuggets begging for attention
A southern California band, based on the partnership of Rich Dembowski and Woody Aplanalp, Old Californio deliver an album which is rooted in “wooden music,” a term used by Steve Stills to describe CSN&Y’s acoustic forays as opposed to his frenetic guitar duelling with Neil Young. As such there’s much pleasant picking and strumming, allied to some very fine harmonies, throughout the album.
The pair are ably assisted by a fine roll call of musicians who are to be regularly found playing in bands such as GospelbeacH, I See Hawks In LA and Lukas Nelson while John Avila (of Oingo Boingo fame) appears on bass and vocals and writes one of the finest songs on the disc. There are three original songs, the remainder being covers. Avila’s ‘I Won’t Cry’ stands out immediately, sounding as if it was being performed by Poco in their prime while Dembowski’s ‘Shorten Your List’ is almost as good in its dusty back porch nonchalance. Aplanalp’s offering, ‘I Say That Too’ harks back to classic early Little Feat or Gene Parsons’ era Byrds.
The cover songs (10 of them) are a much more mixed bag. A bluegrass delivery of The Beatles’ ‘Because’ doesn’t work for this reviewer but then some may prefer it to the moptops version. Their takes on The Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’, Little Feat’s ‘Willin’’, Neil Young’s ‘Lotta Love’ and John Prine’s ‘The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness’ are all fine in themselves but don’t stray far from the originals begging the question, why? They do add a grand strut to Prine’s ‘Knocking’ On Your Screen Door’ but when they take on Guy Clark’s ‘Stuff That Works’ they lose the world-weary wisdom which Clark captured so well on the original.
‘Old Californio Country’ is a fine album, one to sling on after work when you kick off your boots and crack open a beer but on the basis of the excellent original songs, one might feel short changed after a while.
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