It’s getting so that there’s a lot of cosmic vibes seeping into Americana these days. Hints of psychedelia, bucolic landscapes and guitars, lots of guitars, especially gliding and keening pedal steel guitars, seem to abound. A lot of folk blame The Grateful Dead and their jam band successors and they may be guilty as charged, but when you have the likes Billy strings, Israel Nash, Gospelbeach, Rose City Band and Pacific Range bringing out superb albums then I guess we have to at least forgive the culprits.
The above is a long-winded way to mention Jon Chi, late of a band called Rainmaker, who has a bit of a history with jam bands and members of The Dead. River Of Marigolds, his third solo album, is a fine addition to this new cosmic Americana, and yes, it has some swell guitar. The album was actually released on Earth Day, back in April, a nod to some of the environmental concerns raised by several of the songs and Chi is supported by an excellent host of Bay area musicians, the main band being Dave Schools (bass), Dave Zirbel (pedal steel), Jeremy Feinstein (keyboard), Jeremy Hoenig (drums) and Mike Emerson (keyboard, harmony vocals). Together they have created an album which does glide and soar with several of the songs melting into one another via superb segues. This is most apparent on the 12 minute combination of Bring On The Rain and Up In Flames which, despite their apocalyptic subjects, positively shimmer like a heat haze rising from the speakers with plenty of space for some incredibly groovy solos on guitar and organ. The overall sensation on listening to this is quite glorious.
While there is room for a funkier approach (with horns added by The Monophonics) on Give The Devil His Due which slinks along like Lowell George in his prime, the majority of the album cleaves to the cosmic vibe. Cold Clear Winter is a gentle yet brittle chug with shards of guitar and that keening pedal steel set against an urgent bustle from the rhythm section and the title song unfolds initially like a Grateful Dead jam winding down before Chi rides in with his gentle voice gently buoyed by another hazy flow of guitars and keyboards. Sweet Surrender is a lovely song with a killer outro as the band slow almost to a halt before swelling into a glorious coda. There’s some fire and brimstone on the fiery Road To Revival which rocks along with more than a hint of Tucson desert rock in its make up while Dannemora Blues (Don’t Lose Your Head) is cinematic desert noire as Chi recounts the true tale of two prison escapees. Here he approaches the story telling heights which defined The Drive By Truckers’ epic Southern Rock Opera.
The album closes with a reprise of River Of Marigold delivered as a cosmic campfire song with a dream jam band playing off in the distance. A fine close to what is quite a magnificent album.