Old California - Metaterranea
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Metaterranea (Self-released, 2023)

Old California

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

"Metaterranea" is the sixth album released in collective band Old Californio's 16-year history. They are truly a genre mashup, capable of delivering straight ahead country, folk, rock n' roll and Beatles/Beach Boys-like pop harmonies. All those elements are present in these 10 tracks.

The two linchpins to the group are songwriter and lead singer Rich Dembowski and guitarist/vocalist Woody Alplanalp. The latter, like many of these members, plays in multiple bands. Ther rest of the cast is longtime drummer/vocalist Justin Smith, keyboardist Jon Niemann, Jason Chesney and guitarist Paul Lacques. Bassist Corey McCormick and drummer Anthony Logerfo, both of Neil Young's rhythm section also contribute.

Opener, the twangy "Old Kings Road" takes us down the legendary El Camino Real with stops at dive bars. The band embraces their "bar band" persona, echoing those indelible sounds of New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Flying Burrito Brothers along the way.

The ballad "Come Undone" ratchets it down a bit, with Nieman's barrelhouse piano and those aforementioned harmonies coming to the fore. The sonics are light, but the lyrics are relatively heavy – "...the soul keeps no curfew/And where you finish everything begins/And everything starts where you end." The Beatles reference is blatantly apparent in "The Swerve" down to the opening guitar intro, the Harrison-like slide, not to mention the harmonies.

"Destining Again" is one of their more complex tunes (and better ones) that harnesses the band's array of talents with a banjo driven intro leading to harmonies soaring above Aplanalp's guitar and Niemann's B3 in the middle section capped by Chesney's layered harmonies as they take it out. Yet even here the mention of "long and winding road" and the "Across the Universe" motifs in the subsequent "Timeless Things" bear the Beatles stamp as well as does the psychedelic folk of "Weeds (Wildflowers)." They land somewhere between Crazy Horse and Big Star-like power pop in "The Seer" while in the closing Fred Neil-inspired "Just Like a Cloud" there are echoes of later period Byrds and a curious jazz motif, accented by the baritone vocals, which had only appeared on one previous track. Yet, the guitar outro doesn't quite fit.

Yes, nostalgia aside, the album is rather uneven, but the band is so talented both vocally and instrumentally, that any other result would be more surprising.

CDs by Old California

Metaterranea, 2023

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