British psychedelic folk-pop band The Hanging Stars has recorded its debut album, titled ‘Over the Silvery Lake’. Vocalist and frontman Richard Olson’s latest musical incarnation is a 13 song admixture of folk, country, surf, and pop rock, blending some of the most lasting Laurel Canyon sounds with timeless elements to create a pleasant, mellow sonic journey. Recordings from three studios on two continents mesh seamlessly into one creation.
Psychedelic culture mixed with country, folk, and roots music traditions, beginning in the mid 1960’s. As catalysts, bands formed and dissolved repeatedly until some creative kindling was lit. Visionary tastemakers like Gram Parsons, with his “cosmic American music”, nurtured the fledgling aural novelty. Eventually the idea took root, and what came to be called psychedelic pop music was born.
‘Over the Silvery Lake’ has a solid foundation, an analog sound, and a time-gone-by depth. The mix does not bury instruments, allowing each sonic layer breathing room. Time-wise, 12 of the 13 songs fall into the “under four minute”, radio-friendly mark. Musicianship throughout the nicely sequenced recording is solid and unpretentious. Tempos are relaxed; syncopation during ‘Ruby Red’, a shuffle in ‘Cure Your Ills’, and acoustic guitar top-tapping by hand throughout ‘Rainmaker, Sunseeker’ add percussion highlights. There are no overlong solos or jam-band indulgences; the album concerns itself more with songcraft than showmanship. Stacked vocal harmonies and multiple vocal layers accent verses ranging from summery pop to languid, pensive singer-songwriter tribulations, rendering hooks all the more sublime.
Crisp and lively, the first three songs on the album were released previously, and should be familiar to fans. Traditional folk music is rife with cautionary tales and causes controversy; The Hanging Stars do not attempt to rabble-rouse or replicate this. Instead, from the genres subsumed, the band’s songs carry more of country’s heartache or longing, and pop’s jangly eternal sunshine.
With the sun comes the shadow: listeners are treated to the grandeur of open skies and vast landscapes, as well as pervasive, subtle darkness. ‘I’m No Good Without You,’ ‘Golden Vanity’, and ‘The House on the Hill’ all have touches of murky depth to them; this is unexpected, given the tunes’ soothing, pleasant melodies. A study in contrast, ‘For A While’ is as peaceful, floating, and ethereal as ‘The House on the Hill’ is an ominous and punchy stinger.
Two timeless instrumentals, ‘Rainmaker, Sunseeker’ and ‘The Hanging Stars’ punctuate the dynamic disc. The placid beauty of later Byrds melodic sense and layering is featured on the platter’s longest track, closer ‘Running Waters Wide’. Thankfully, the disc is not vapid, and does not become insipid, choosing instead the high road of quality songwriting over trendiness.
Like a cosmic afterglow, bands like The Hanging Stars continue to uphold and grow this (oddly) quintessentially American musical style even a half century post Laurel Canyon, Bakersfield, and Byrds. From ‘Floodbound”s laconic, lilting, calm steel guitar to ‘Running Waters Wide’s laid-back, floating layers and alternate endings, ‘Over the Silvery Lake’ is a blissful listen for fans of inspired, vintage sounding, psychedelic, folky pop.
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