In 1980 I received a vinyl copy of the Eagles’ The Long Run as an Easter gift. Thanks to my father, I was already a fan of the band’s sun-drenched acoustic California harmonies and the album only furthered my love. I would sit in my room pretending to be alternately Don Henley, Glenn Frey or newcomer Timothy B. Schmit. There was something about that album, tinged as it was with country sadness, which spoke to me. Specifically, there was warmth to Schmit’s first Eagles contribution, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” as he sang of a strained relationship, but both eased his love and his audience into believing that everything was going to be all right. The Eagles were something of an anomaly, being a hybrid of a band. They had multiple singers and songwriters, though most can only name Frey and Henley, and intertwined California pop harmonies with country roots just like their predecessors the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Gram Parsons. The Elected fit perfectly into that mold, and their album Sun, Sun, Sun not only stands as the next in that illustrious line, but also recalls the finer days of an almost bygone era.
California has everything, sun, sand, mountains, snow, forests, deserts and lakes, but no matter where you go, one thing is common amongst them, that being the sun. In California it seems ever present which leads me to think that it’s no great stretch to realize how Blake Sennett and Mike Bloom could have such an organic sound on Sun, Sun, Sun. As the day begins on the album with “Clouds Parting (8:14 a.m.)” we hear the lonely twang of lap steel and the beautiful harmonies of Sennett and guest Stacy Dupree (of the band Eisley, who they toured with last year). That song quickly transitions into “Would You Come With Me,” a song which so recalled the Eagles and some of their classic tunes like “One of These Nights” in its harmonies that I had to look at the CD one more time to be sure. Fittingly enough, one of the songs which fellow Rilo Kiley member Jenny Lewis contributed lyrics to, “Fireflies in a Steel Mill,” sounds like it could have been a Lewis tune penned for their original band.
“Not Going Home” is the centerpiece of the album, rocking with Ryland Steen’s (formerly of Reel Big Fish, as a competent replacement for Rilo’s Jason Boesel) steady drumbeat and a wistful echo guitar that could have come out of the soundtrack for Brokeback Mountain. Just like some of my favorite songs from Me First such as “Go On,” “Not Going Home” pulses with energy and builds up to a satisfying conclusion, as Sennett declares that home is being with the one you love. The title track strips down the instrumentation and we find Blake almost alone on acoustic guitar, a spare tinkling piano his only other accompaniment. “Did Me Good” has somewhat of a Motown feel, even with a James Brown or Inkspots-like aside in the middle of the song.
If “Not Going Home” is the centerpiece, then “Biggest Star” is the rocking closer. The song makes me think alternately of early tracks by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the Band, and the build up of songs like Weezer’s “Only in Dreams” and Bright Eyes’ “Poison Oak.” At over seven minutes, the song has loads of momentum as Sennett sings of how that girl that left him behind will regret it someday because, damn it, he’s going places! At about five minutes in when things start to slow down to a crawl then start sprinting toward the finish is a magical moment in the song, and thirty seconds later when all of the instruments, including saxophone, crash in, and Sennett starts screaming that he can’t lose, the air is charged with electricity. The album then wraps up with a reprise of the opener called “At Home (Time Unknown),” but with Blake wrapping things up with the sound of a tinny ukulele.
Sun, Sun, Sun has quickly become one of my favorite albums, just as Me First did last year. The record is so good that I shudder at the thought of future recordings and the learning curve that comes with time and experience. One can tell from listening to the album that Blake Sennett is a man in love with making music, whether it is a slow burning soul tune or a twangy country number. Sun, Sun, Sun, ironically enough, is drenched in that country tinged sadness that I remembered from the Eagles. Although the sun is out, things seem just a little bittersweet. Things aren’t going quite right, but we soldier on, hoping things will get better. When I think of how both he and Lewis started out as child actors I thank our lucky stars that they both chose music as their outlet rather than continue as thespians. And now, when I listen to the Elected, I can both celebrate the present and revel in the past as Blake Sennett and Mike Bloom have combined the two in such a glorious way.
The Eagles- One of the These Nights
Gram Parsons- Grievous Angel
R.E.M.- New Adventures in Hi-Fi