Painted Hills is a welcome new vehicle for Josh Schwartz, one of the great American songwriters going today.
As a part of Beachwood Sparks, Josh Schwartz carved out his own little space in Gram Parsons's America. There was a natural age to that sound. And while there's still plenty of haze and twang to his new band, Painted Hills, the Americana they specialize in is a good deal younger than Parsons. In fact, this stuff sounds like it would have fallen right in line with the Jayhawks and early Son Volt, which is some pretty great company to keep. Schwartz once again gracefully taps into a tradition while still making a sound all his own. This record is a good deal more bleary-eyed than anything Jay Farrar or Gary Louris would put out, and there's a looseness to the guitar interplay that both anchors the beautiful melody of, say, "Come on Down" while also pulling at it fitfully. The best stuff here stretches out and explores, as on the crunching epic of "Everybody" or the boozy guitar heroics of closer "Knew That I'd Want You". The record can, in places, settle into a mid-tempo chug that gets lost a bit in all this echo. But mostly Painted Hills is a welcome new vehicle for one of the great American songwriters going today.