If you haven`t heard of Old Californio, you could be forgiven. They shone brightly for around seven years and sort of came to a natural end around 2011/12 when life sort of got in the way. They had some ideas for songs at that time but out of this global pandemic came a renewed energy, life, and motivation to get the album that they`d begun finished. The upshot being “Songs From the Sea Of Cortez”, the band’s first album since 2011`s “Sundrunk Angels”
The album opens with `Saint Cecelia` who is a Roman martyr who became the patron of music and musicians, so probably a good dedication to begin with. It`s a warm sort of Laurel Canyon folk rock musing with some delightful harmonies that The Byrds would have been proud of.
I`m led to believe that it`s a Cuatro that leads us through the more rootsy `Broke, Blessed and Penniless` which has a dreamy R&B vibe.
The band have always had a literary bent so maybe `Lyre of Orpheus` has some roots in the novel of the same name by Canadian author Robertson Davies. The last of three connected novels of the Cornish Trilogy where Davies looks at how underlying medieval patterns surface in modern lives. Nevertheless it`s a joyously upbeat offering which bounds along but takes a bit of a curve ball towards the end where it had a more new age flavour. I felt that `All the Powers That Be` had a slightly melancholic tone but was still a superbly enjoyable quite reflective composition. It put me in mind of the contemplative numbers Tom Petty shared.
`From the Horse`s Mouth` had a superb resonating vibrating guitar riff throughout this tune that had me thinking of Country Joe and The Fish. There`s a terrific strap line of “ain`t gonna be mad, ain`t gonna worry about all that shit going down, until I hear it from the Horse`s mouth” stunning. Sitting here in Birmingham`s frosty industrial wasteland `Fernando and the Cosmic Grass` conjures up an image of walking on a beach in California`s Big Sur listening to a tale of some long-gone hero imaginary or not.
`Nature of the Beast` has some subtle brass tinges on this laid-back amble through the inevitability of what life has to offer you. The sound of a rolling or breaking wave introduces us to `Trestles (San Luis Rae) ` which is a collection of surfing spots on San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County, California. The number seems to equate to a dispute at the site over access but maybe I misunderstood the lyrics. The song has some intricate acoustic guitar chords that gave it a slight Latin feel at times.
`Softly Over The Broken` is a little different. It seems to form out of a musical jam with drums, bass, keys, guitars, brass with vocals layered or floated atop, eclectic but seductive. Again `Too Tired` is a little different. A quite stripped back piece with drum, piano and vocal with harmonies joining in at times.
The title alone `A Savage Grace` brings two almost contradictory words together, the definition possibly ferocious in temper. However, the track opens quietly with a picked acoustic guitar and vocal before blossoming into a more sort of beat like folky submission. The album closes with `Giving In` which to me had a Beatlesque feel, musically a vast number to end on.
I have to say I really loved this offering from Old Californio. These sons of The Golden State certainly are proud to acknowledge where they`re from not only in the name they carry but in their new albums title “Songs From the Sea Of Cortez”, which is the name preferred by most local residents for The Gulf of California. If that wasn`t enough it becomes obvious when you listen to the tracks included. There`s a wonderful almost sunny optimism shared against an upbeat quite hypnotic musical background with vocal harmonies that really complement it all.
An enchanting end to a pretty dire and challenging year.
Rating 9 /10