Swan Songs, Vol. One
This easy-rolling collaboration between two established Northern California acts — Grass Valley’s Aaron Ross and Nevada City’s Farrow and the Peach Leaves — proves that there’s musical gold in them thar foothills.
Singer-songwriter Ross has been putting out albums since 2003’s “The Hallelujah Side,” spinning tales of life’s ups and downs set to instrumentation that might be solo acoustic one moment, full-band electric the next, or some of both. His pleasant tenor voice suits his style of lyrics, which generally fall between the poetic wordplay of Bob Dylan and the cosmic musings of Jon Anderson.
Farrow and the Peach Leaves, in their three years together, have released two excellent albums of modern country rock. After coming to the rescue of friend Ross a few years ago when he needed a backup band on short notice, the two parties found the live gig so uplifting that they decided to bottle their lightning in the studio.
Good New Music caught up with Zach Peach, the band’s drummer and recording engineer, via email.
“The album was recorded in my basement studio (Dream Cabin Sounds),” he said. “I’ve been doing home recordings for the last 10 years of mostly just my various musical products, and my brother Justin is a carpenter. We began building out my basement for the studio in 2017 … and when the pandemic hit, we had all the excuses we needed to finish the project, and this “Swan Songs” album is actually the first album we’ve recorded down here! We’re still getting comfortable with the workflow, but hopefully we will be recording and helping to release more projects from us and our friends.”
The result is nothing short of exhilarating. Opening cut and first single “Catch a Glimpse” begins with a strummed acoustic guitar, not unlike the intro to “Sweet Melissa” by the Allman Brothers Band, and then explodes into chiming electric guitar à la the Rolling Stones, before further evolving to showcase subtle twin-lead passages like a toned-down version of the Outlaws. A united piano-banjo front provides just the right counterweight.
The entirety of “Swan Songs” is drawn from Ross’ back catalogue, with “Catch a Glimpse” being a bit of an exception.
” ‘Catch a Glimpse’ was originally on (2017’s) ‘Love thy Enemies,’ ” Ross explained to GNM in an email, “but I recently remixed/mastered that album and I cut a few songs — namely that one — ’cause the recording was not very good and I felt like the one with the band was much better and could live on through ‘Swan Songs.’ I wrote that song with a band in mind anyway, but then recorded it the first time with MIDI instruments (never as good!).”
The second single, “Jack Kerouac,” is a guitar lover’s dream — these reporter’s ears caught no less than five: electric lead and rhythm; acoustic; banjo; and pedal steel. The conglomeration of stringed instruments joins with a shuffling/marching drumbeat to great effect, underscoring the topic of nostalgia for one’s gloriously misspent youth.
Elsewhere, a heavy-sounding electric guitar reigns on “Born Into the Void,” aided and abetted by a well-placed electric piano (read “Houses of the Holy”/”Physical Graffiti”-era Led Zeppelin). “Baby I’m a Mystic” undoubtedly prompts older listeners to recall the mid-1980s, specifically Welsh singer-songwriter/one-man band Karl Wallinger’s project World Party.
The record’s centerpiece, though, is sourced from Ross’ finest effort: 2007’s “Shapeshifter.” Sounding to this critic a little like Mungo Jerry’s 1970 No. 1 smash, “In the Summertime,” the upbeat tempo of “Looking Glass Mass” belies its sardonic references to religion, false leaders and dumbed-down subjects — and is made even more jaunty by some Appalachian-style fiddle.
1. Catch A Glimpse
3. Born Into The Void
4. Let A Little Love Shine
5. Thief In The Night
6. Baby I’m A Mystic
7. Jack Kerouac
8. Looking Glass Mass
10. Salvation Army Beautiful
Total time: 57:50