In the Clearing

Crispin Glover

Sugarfoot’s latest represents a branching out: Unlike the Norwegian band’s earlier releases, the overall feel of the music has become “country prog” (for lack of a better term) more than simply “country rock.”

No doubt this has something to do with the fact that bassist Bent Sæther also is in Motorpsycho (not to be confused with Motorhead, although the former group did start out in kind of a prog-inspired hard rock vein before incorporating psychedelic, pop and avant-jazz elements).

Of course, founding members and guitarists Øyvind Holm and Hogne Galåen, who were in psych-pop outfit Deleted Waveform Gatherings, obviously are not ones to be tied to a mainstream musical genre either.

But perhaps the man most responsible for Sugarfoot’s evolutionary quantum leap is producer Lars Horntveth, himself a musician and composer with experimental jazz group Jaga Jazzist.

Galåen, when asked by email, was kind enough to tell Good New Music the story of how Sugarfoot ended up with such a strong producer:

“Lars Horntveth had collaborated with Motorpsycho earlier … and we needed to think fresh after two albums recorded at Rancho de la Luna, Joshua Tree,” Galåen explained. “We knew that Lars would have a different approach to this album just by knowing who he is as a producer, but also as a musician. We spent some days together before going to France and Black Box Studio and we hit it off right away. It’s fair to say that all the songwriters in Sugarfoot present songs to the band, which then either will be formed in style by every member or it will die there and then as an SF song, but this time we let Lars make all decisions regarding what songs to record. We ended up with 11 songs recorded in this amazing studio in rural France, two of which did not end up on the album, but were released as a bonus 7” with the (500-copy, sold-out) first edition of ‘In the Clearing.’ …

“After the week in the studio, we took a break from it, knowing that Lars would still be working on this from his hometown Oslo, and after a while the sessions started to reappear and we all knew that this was going to be something different. The rest of the backing vocals and percussion were finished and Lars took it to (Blanca Studio in Bergen, Norway) and mixed it together with Matias Tellez, who also did a fantastic job.

“You know, one special thing about this album is that the sound it has, is so big in the way that every tiny little detail is so clear. I’m absolutely stunned by how it came out. And the reception from the fans has been overwhelming. It is good to be in Sugarfoot at the moment and we’re gonna play as much as we can for the fans, but Norway is not the best country (in which) to be a touring band—cold snowy winters and long distances between the big cities combined with roads over big mountains. It’s surely not the best and pretty expensive but hey, in the long run it is worth it!”

Comprising another major factor in the album’s excellence are the pedal-steel stylings of member Roar Øien, whose playing sounds decidedly more non-country, perhaps even jazzy, this time around. GNM posited this perception to Galåen, who responded:

“Roar is the best pedal steel player I’ve ever heard! He can adapt to anything, whether it’s pure country or in (more of a Daniel) Lanois landscape.

“The first time we met Roar was when (Deleted Waveform Gatherings) still had some momentum. We were finishing a double album and he put down a few tracks on it. We fell in love with his playing right there and then, and he’s not just a fantastic player but also one of the best guys you’ll ever meet.

“On ‘In the Clearing’ he’s amazing. I believe Lars made an impact on him as well as all of the other members—like if our mantra was to really try to do something different, something we’d never done before. … This was really different for all of us.”

Opening track “Changing Times” is a perfect example of the newfound “country prog” motif—Jon Anderson-like vocal refrains, Chris Squire-ish bass runs, Tony Kaye-style organ riffs and even a mini acoustic guitar solo à la Steve Howe, all with the added delight of pedal-steel embellishments poking their little heads out like eels from their hiding places!

The title track’s structure and arrangement are mind-blowing and allow it to fluctuate in spirit between Poco in its finest spaced-out pedal steel hour (think “Driving Wheel” from 1974’s “Seven”) and Led Zeppelin during its Middle Eastern infatuation phase (i.e. “Kashmir” on 1975’s “Physical Graffiti”).

The pedal steel takes center stage for “Ladybug Fly,” serving as lead guitar on a light and airy song that also boasts impressive harmony vocals, acoustic strumming and a nearly military drum beat. A unique closing passage sees all the instruments except pedal steel slow to nearly a stop and then gradually resume their previous tempo, all while the vocals and pedal steel continue unabated.

Lead singer Holm hands the reins over to Sæther for the “The House on the Hill,” a Sæther composition that despite featuring a Clavinet in stark contrast to other, pseudo-electronica passages manages to overall have the feel of “Countdown to Ecstasy”-era Steely Dan!

Closing out the album is by far the proggiest track, “Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère,” named after the municipality in western France where Black Box Studio is located. It begins in earnest as a ballad, but after about four minutes the tempo shifts as the song becomes an instrumental and the keyboards morph into the sound of Tony Banks on early Genesis LPs such as “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot.”

At the end of the day, Sugarfoot’s fifth effort is a fine updating of classic country rock, lending new meaning to the term “Cosmic American Music” in a way that genre pioneer Gram Parsons surely would have appreciated.

1. Changing Times
2. Cotton Candy Clouds
3. In The Clearing
4. Ladybug
5. Just A Dream
6. The House On The Hill
7. Little Miss Darkness
8. Original Sin
9. Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère

Total time: 45:00

External links
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Crispin Glover Records (vinyl)

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Beachwood Sparks

The Tarnished Gold

Sub Pop

Nearly a decade after their breakup, Beachwood Sparks return with their third full-length studio album.

The dreamy pedal steel guitar is intact, albeit not played by Farmer Dave Scher but by Dan Horne (Mezzanine Owls, The Street & Babe Shadow), who filled in for the unavailable Scher when the group reformed for Sub Pop’s 20th-anniversary concert in 2008 (Scher instead plays keyboards and guitar). Also supporting the “classic” quartet in the studio are Ben Knight (The Tyde) on guitar and returning 2001 tour guitarist Neal Casal (a solid solo artist in his own right).

It’s as if time stood still while the band was on hiatus. “Gold” picks up exactly where “Once We Were Trees” left off — except there are way more guitars (electric and acoustic, including the occasional banjo, mandolin or lap steel), and everyone brings experience from their interim side projects: Scher and original drummer Jimi Hey’s All Night Radio; bassist Brent Rademaker’s Frausdots; and guitarist Chris Gunst’s Mystic Chords of Memory.

With three singers, BWS has never been wanting for Byrdsian harmonies; in fact, they’re even more pronounced this go-around, especially on numbers such as the proclamatory “Forget the Song,” the collectively autobiographical “Sparks Fly Again” and the cross-faded one-two punch (if such a thing is possible for a laid-back, Cosmic American outfit) of “The Orange Grass Special” and “Goodbye.”

Other notables include the “this one’s for you, Gram Parsons” title track; “Water From the Well,” which really does go down like a long, cold drink of subterranean H20 on a hot summer day; and the jingly-jangly “Earl Jean.”

1. Forget The Song
2. Sparks Fly Again
3. Mollusk
4.Tarnished Gold
5. Water From The Well
6. Talk About Lonesome
7. Leave That Light On
8. Nature’s Light
9. No Queremos Oro
10. Earl Jean
11. Alone Together
12. The Orange Grass Special
13. Goodbye

Total time: 43:48

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El Capitan

What Ails You


Poco meets Pink Floyd?

El Capitan, a San Francisco-based group of modern-day space cowboys, are on to something. After all, David Gilmour used a pedal steel on “Dark Side of the Moon’s” opener, “Breathe.”

Or is it Grateful Dead meets Yes? “What Ails You,” El Capitan’s first full-length, features a generous dose of fuzzed-out lap steel, sounding somewhat like Jerry Garcia’s “American Beauty”-era pedal steel; and its lyrics are esoteric enough to earn the Jon Anderson Seal of Approval. Get a load of this slice from “Silo Song”:

Salt wind dash along a pastel plain
On the feathers of an immigrant constellation
Over the siren flyways of the mariposa lane
Above an outta-place silo for the alpine grain

Rounding out the group’s well-thought-out, much-practiced sound are electric, resonator and acoustic guitars; banjo; harmonica; keyboards; accordion; violin; bass; and drums. But don’t let the rustic lineup fool you: This is about as far from bluegrass as possible.

Whatever planet El Capitan is from, rest assured they come in peace — to grab listeners with a tractor beam of solid musicianship, rural themes and laid-back melodies, and transport them to the far corners of the cosmos. At least until the CD ends.

1. Manzanita I
2. Osage Orange
3. Bonny Doon
4. May
5. Metronome
6. Cat’s Cradle
7. Silo Song
8. Key Of K
9. Manzanita II
10. Fare Alone Sound
11. Clementine Bells

Total time: 35:47

External Tracks
artist’s link
Miles of Music

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Backdoor Men

Mohawk Combover 

Handsome Productions

All right, punk. You better get over here and listen to this reunion album by the notorious Backdoor Men. What’s that? You never heard of ’em? Where you been, livin’ under a rock or somethin’?

Well, maybe it has been 20 years or so since these participants in Cleveland’s late-’70s rock scene disappeared after their first reunion, under the name Napoleon in Rags; which followed a split into two groups — Terry & The Tornadoes and The Bombers — after their first three years of existence. Are you following this?

Fact is they worked that town’s punk circuit from 1977 to 1987 in one form or another, inspired by local acts the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu.

Now they’re back, on disc at least, taking their second chance with a batch of new material that reflects all their phases and influences: punk, psychedelic, blues, garage and folk.

They’ve still got their chops — and their attitude. So check it out before I mess you up.

1. Take Me Away
2. Cultural Insanity
3. Not Fed Up With You Yet
4. Bus Station Gyration
5. I’m So Fucked Up
6. Fuck The French
7. Hallelujah I’m A Goofball Bum
8. Pure Heart
9. Oklahoma Jack
10. It’s So Strong
11. Knockin’ ‘Em Down
12. Everything Is Killing Me (And There’s Nothing That’s Worth Dying For)
13. Well Of Rage
14. Shit Outta Luck
15. Go Home Party Boy
16. End of the Line
17. Eve Of Destruction

Total time: 46.2 minutes

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The Polyphonic Spree

Together We’re Heavy

Hollywood Records

What do you do next after folding your rock group following the lead guitarist’s drug-related death?

If you’re Tim DeLaughter, you take a year and a half off to have a few kids, then round up the surviving members and add a pair of keyboardists, a percussionist, flautist, trumpeter, trombonist, French horn player, violist, cellist, Theremin player, electronics wizard and choir of 10.

Then you take your songs of love and joy and start playing gigs, with everybody wearing robes. As you develop a fan base, you sell homemade CDs of your demos that were recorded in three days. Next thing you know, those demos are officially released as your first album.

Two years and a sitcom guest appearance later, armed with a major record label deal, you head for the studio to record the follow-up — only this time you take three months. The result: a fantastic, surreal, cheerful and uplifting epic of symphonic proportions that, for all its mega logistics, still comes off sounding refreshingly simple.

1. Section 11 (A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed)
2. Section 12 (Hold Me Now)
3. Section 13 (Diamonds/Mild Devotion To Majesty)
4. Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)
5. Section 15 (Ensure Your Reservation)
6. Section 16 (One Man Show)
7. Section 17 (Suitcase Calling)
8. Section 18 (Everything Starts At The Seam)
9. Section 19 (When The Fool Becomes A King)
10. Section 20 (Together We’re Heavy)

Total time: 57.7 minutes

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iTunes Store

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