Dizzy Spins: Andrew Gabbard - Cedar City Sweetheart
A member of Buffalo Killers, singer/songwriter Andrew Gabbard, taps into Laurel Canyon circa 1968 for inspiration on his new release.
As a toddler, my introduction to music was what my mom and my uncles were listening to at the time. We lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. My early soundtrack was a pretty steady stream of what was happening at the time – Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Beach Boys to name a few. Among my first early memories of music was the album Abraxas by Santana. I specifically recall how it opens – the song Singing Winds, Crystal Beasts – it begins with some atmospheric sounds and two notes on a piano, a C and D two octaves below middle C, followed by a wind effect. It and a lot of other California music was uploaded to my internal hard drive at an early age and the style has stuck with me since. You can hear it in a lot of the music I choose for Open Air – bands like Coffis Brothers, Mother Hips and Calling Cadence are keeping the California folk-rock sound alive.
Recently an album crossed my desk that I was sure was a new artist from California. Andrew Gabbard’s sound relies heavily on Laurel Canyon folk rock from back in its heyday. With Crosby Stills and Nash inspired harmonies, Bakersfield twang and some psychedelic undertones reminiscent of New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Flying Burrito Brothers, you could be forgiven if you thought Gabbard grew up in Southern California. He’s actually from Ohio, and while you can hear the California influence, you can also hear the influence of fellow Midwest country rockers, Wilco.
In a word, the new release by Andrew Gabbard, Cedar City Sweetheart, is country. More specifically, cosmic country. It's the kind of music you might expect in a documentary about early Deadheads. It’s a mostly light-hearted, fun, kinda trippy listen with an accessible sound and a bit of a sense of humor. Surfboard City starts with a twangy, psychedelic keyboard and pedal steel combination that sounds a bit like the Grateful Dead on Anthem of the Sun. From there, it’s a fun-at-the-beach romp like something the Beach Boys may have written. The stanza “I’m on surfboard beach/In Brian Wilson’s robe/sittin’ in the sand/eatin’ an ice cream cone,” tells me the comparison was intended. With an up-tempo cadence and sunny vocal lines, Redwood reminds me of the CSNY song Marrakesh Express or Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees . But just in case you’re still on the fence about the kind of record Gabbard intended, track six is Lonesome Psychedelic Cowboy, the title of which is a pretty perfect description of the song and the album overall. His photo on the cover with mutton chops and a cowboy hat even looks a little like Stephen Stills from the Buffalo Springfield era.
Gabbard has been playing music for a while now. He's part of Buffalo Killers, is half of the duo The Gabbard Brothers and tours as a guitarist for The Black Keys. His previous release, Homemade, as the title suggests, was Andrew playing all the instruments. For the new record he uses a band. He says he sent the core of each song, from iPhone recordings, to his friends who professionally recorded their parts. Then he re-recorded his parts and pieced the album together. Joining him on keyboards is M Ross Perkins. Ryan Wells plays banjo on several tracks and Leslie Jankowski plays fiddle. Rounding out the line-up is Sven Kahns on dobro, lap steel and pedal steel guitar. It is Kahn’s stylings as well as lyrics and vocals by Gabbard that give this record its retro psychedelic country feel. Gabbard says his mother is a country music fan and had encouraged him to make a country album. Having been a fan of rock bands making country records – he cites The Byrds as an example – he took the challenge.
If the goal of Cedar City Sweetheart was to break new ground and define a new direction in music, it failed. Luckily that seems to be far from the point. It’s a familiar sound and a legitimate homage to a style made popular decades ago and for someone with California music in their blood, is still relevant today.