The best West Coast pop record in decades, and it's from across the pond.
One would have expected different things from the son of Elton Johns longtime guitarist. Something more in line with Status Quo or Queen would make more sense as a musical influence. But young Tam Johnstone (Daveys his dad) has other plans. Local Honey, his debut as the General Store, is a stunning tribute to the heyday of early ‘70s West Coast pop. The Eagles, Byrds, CSN&Y and Poco (add a dash of Beatles for flavor) are not only saluted on this album, theyre embarrassingly upstaged.
And he recorded the whole thing in a week, on a 4-track machine, after suffering a devastating breakup. Nothing, I mean nothing, inspires genius like a good heartbreak.
“Letdown” leads things off, resembling a musical sequel to the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit”, with Johnstone pulling a vocal that lands somewhere between Neil Young and Randy Meisner as he sings, “Ive let you down for the last time / But girl, I never meant you no harm”. Not the most original sentiment, but just try not to sing along with the gorgeous harmonies slathered all over the first line. “Airport Breakfast” is a Traveling Wilbury-esque ditty about fear of flying, with gorgeous four-layered “doot doot doo” vocals that recall the Eagles at their peak.
The most curious addition is Johnstone’s dead serious country take of the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now”. As an experiment in genre-hopping, the song works surprisingly well. Moving the song out of its synth pop roots actually shows how good a song it was in the first place. However, Johnstones originals are so, so good that “Hold Me Now” winds up paling by comparison. Most bands do covers because their originals need some help. In this instance, Johnstone may have actually done himself a disservice by choosing a cover over one of his originals. Rare is the songwriter who can be accused of such a thing.
“Stay” is Local Honeys showstopper, a beautiful, brilliant ballad set to an easy calypso beat that is nothing short of devastating. “How can I ever make amends for what Ive done / Even the sun has turned away / It blackens my heart / Darkens my days”. Again, were not talking anything that can rival Andy Partridge in the lyrics department, but the man knows his hooks, and the tailing line of “I know I did you wrong, girl” over the fade has a hook the size of Titanic’s anchor. One of the best love-gone-wrong songs of recent memory. He should send it to the Backstreet Boys. Seriously.
Another standout track is “Coming Down”, which could have been a Linda Ronstadt song from her late ‘70s watershed years, with its lazy but cool melody and, once again, those lush harmonies. “The Space Between Us” (not related to the Roxy Music song) is like Jellyfish’s “Russian Hill” if they were more into Roger McGuinn than Brian Wilson.
Now that Travis has made wuss rock cool again, it was only a matter of time before the feel-good California pop sound of the ‘70s was rediscovered, Sheryl Crow aside. It may seem odd to get this lesson from a Brit, but from the sound of Local Honey, he’s clearly a scholar of the period. I secretly, selfishly hope that some new girl comes along and crushes him just like the last one did, because the world could use more albums like this.
// Notes from the Road
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