Beachwood Sparks – Once We Were Trees – Review

Beachwood Sparks

Once We Were Trees (Sub Pop)
by Brian Varney

Now, I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing these four youngsters have admired a post-Gram Parsons Byrds album or two, say Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde and (Untitled). With all of the (deserved) praise these No Depression (the “movement,” not the mag) folks have heaped upon Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the Gram Parsons solo LPs, it would seem folks forgot how much country was in post-Sweetheart Byrds. Well, these guys haven’t forgotten. Think “Chestnut Mare” or “The Ballad of Easy Rider” rather than “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” The country thing is here, no question, but there are also ’60s production techniques (plenty of echo, flanged drumbeats, panning, etc.) and layers of steel guitar and organ that marked late-period Byrds and which make this more than merely a country-rock rehash. Yeah, it does kinda make it a Byrds rehash, but at least that hasn’t been done to death (yet).

I saw these guys open for the Black Crowes in an arena a while back and I wasn’t much impressed at the time. But having played the CD, I can see that was less a problem with the band than with the venue. This is not “loud” music at all. Beachwood Sparks makes intimate music that is made to be experienced in a small, warm environment like a church or your room. In the right setting, Once We Were Trees is quite pretty, but you’re gonna miss the musical and emotional subtleties in an arena.

As I sit and write, I can see out the window. The sky is overcast and about to rain, and the wind is gusting, casting bunches of brown leaves over the still-green grass. It’s just this sort of setting that’s perfect for this album.
(PO Box 20645 Seattle, WA 98102)