If you happen to have the money and a free evening – assuming you read this on the date I put it up – it’s possible to hop on a plane to SoCal and check out the release party for this 10-song compilation by California-based Echo Sparks, a group which describes itself as a “mashup of folk, rockabilly, old Mexico, blues and 1930s jazz.”
The group’s newest release is, at its heart, a relatively simple composition. The trio doesn’t rely on heavy instrumentation; for the most part the songs are done with two guitars and an old-fashioned double bass that creates a relatively unique bottom end with much more of an acoustic echo (almost a beatbox-style thump) which you wouldn’t get with an electric bass without resorting to lots of fancy effects. This video of the title track gives you an idea of how “Ghost Town Girl” essentially works – although there are drum parts added on the actual recording, they aren’t very complex.
What I noticed most about this album is the vocals. Echo Sparks is a band which relies heavily on harmonies to carry their songs. With the exception of the bluesy Torch Song, where the harmonies are held in check until the latter part of the song, the tracks work within the parameters of the interplay between their two vocalists, guitarists CC Kinnick and DA Valdez. Generally this works well, although I found it was a little bit weaker on Rolling 60s and End of the Line than some of the other songs, such as the knockout Mexican Moon, leadoff track Broken Arrow, and Small Change.
That’s not to say all the songs sound just the same, though. A little flavor is added to Shallow Water (the one song written by bassist Cindy Ballreich) with the inclusion of piano, and I found the guitar work on the final track I Think It’s You to be a highlight as well. The lyrics of Princess of Fresno made me smile – it’s one of many songs with California references, whether in place names or items associated with the state. In that respect, the band pays a great deal of homage to their roots.
I noted above that, at times, the band sounds a little uneven with its harmonies. But this also gave me the thought that it may best reflect how Echo Sparks would sound live. Certainly they don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on making sure everything sounds just so with nary a note or pitch out of place, but having that sterile studio sound may make one wonder what happened when you see the band live. With a steady schedule of shows around their SoCal base, I’m betting this album sounds quite a bit like they would sound live if they had a drummer for those shows.
All in all, “Ghost Town Girl” conveys the fact that Echo Sparks occupies a rather unique niche. Perhaps it won’t lead to overwhelming commercial success, but you almost have to think they may not mind so much if it means they can stay true to themselves. Don’t take my word for it, though: go ahead and listen for yourself. If you move quickly enough you can still catch that release party.