Well the nights are drawing in and it’s a strange time to be extolling the virtues of an album as sunny as Pacific Surf Line, an album that might require some sunscreen to be applied before listening. The album’s packed full of sunshine pop and rock’n’roll, the California (or more specifically LA) sound that was mined by The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees and The Byrds helmed by producers such as Gary Usher, Terry Melcher and Curt Boechter. No surprise really as GospelbeacH are the spiritual descendents of Beachwood Sparks whom folk will remember as a sun drenched jangle band from the turn of the century.
Brent Rademaker and Tom Sanford, both ex Beachwoods got together back in 2014 and pretty soon were joined by Neal Casal (somewhat of a renaissance man in the Americana scene, check out his resume sometime) who added his guitar and vocals to the mix. With bass duties picked up by Kip Boardman and Jason Soda coming in on yet more guitar the line up was finalised; bass drums and three guitarists, a modern day Moby Grape? Not too farfetched a comparison perhaps as the Grape produced what might be the finest West Coast pop/rock disc with their debut album, each song on it deemed worthy of a single release (a PR stunt that backfired spectacularly). The point here is that GospelbeacH have the muscle, crossfire guitar and song writing chops that Moby Grape displayed so briefly and combine this with the mature country rock of Souther, Hillman and Furay.
There are ten songs, all written and arranged by all band members with Rademaker singing lead throughout, harmonies from the other four. The sprightly country rock of the opening California Steamer immediately grabs your attention, an intricately layered tapestry of guitars, acoustic and slide, beavers away as Rademaker sings the praises of barrelling down the California coast on a glorious train. It’s a sublime song that incredibly gets better towards the end with an excellent coda featuring organ and sparkling guitar, a song that could kill an album as you reckon there’s nothing coming up that’s going to beat it. No fears here as the band next launch into the sun kissed road song Sunshine Skyway evoking the likes of Poco with some fine pedal steel from Jason Soda skirling away. Your Freedom allows some room to catch your breath on a gentle ballad that features some heavenly harmonies before Mick Jones hammers into view with its driving rhythm and snarled Dobro summoning up a country punk thrash before Casal delivers a blistering guitar solo.
Midway through and the band deliver two of the album’s highpoints. Come Down visits the Beach Boys circa 1973 when they added a rhythm section and explored California with a weathered eye. Tempo changes, keyboards and guitar effects echo the Beach Boys mature style and the harmonies lift the song into another dimension. Southern Girl repeats this trick although here the template is Surf’s Up with the band capturing the melancholic nostalgia conveyed by Brian Wilson at the end of the sixties. Immaculately delivered this is no mere copy cat with the arrangement superb, an ARP string ensemble adding texture and Jason Soda soaring stratospherically on his guitar solo. Proving that they’re not anchored to the west coast the band salute some predecessors on the jubilant jangled groove of Out Of My Mind (On Cope & Reed), a song that still relates to LA but the hazier side of things. The lengthiest song here it allows the guitars to flash over a Lowry organ buzz but there’s a sense that they’ve missed a trick here in the title as it most resembles the late Kevin Ayers in full flow.
There’s a sense that the band have had great fun in making this album, collecting their musical memories and breathing new life into them and the closing song Damsel In Distress is no exception gathering in as it does elements of Steve Wynn and CSN&Y’s muscular Long Time Gone. Whatever, it’s another grand song and a great way to end what is a great album.