There is a strong case to be argued that Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers will be THE prominent influence on the innovative pop-rock music in this decade, in the same way that Alex Chilton and Big Star were in the last.
Parsons tagged his mix of country roots and the modern pop aesthetic — “Cosmic American Music” — and already the likes of the Jayhawks, Wilco, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev and Beachwood Sparks have tapped into this rich, pulsating vein.
Joe Mannix (vocals, guitar) and Chris Peck (drums) used to ply their trade with Oral Groove, releasing two full-length albums and an EP of hard-edged power pop with a punk attitude. However, when Oral Groove disbanded, Mannix and Peck pursued a fresh direction with Pretty Strange, the debut collection of songs from the new outfit, simply called Mannix.
Whilst maintaining the tone and power of Oral Groove, Pretty Strange highlighted a rustic roots charm that echoed the heartfelt albeit gritty approach of artists like Neil Young, Stephen Stills, the latter-day Byrds and of course, Parsons.
Since then, Mannix has been quietly and patiently recording and collating material for the follow-up to Pretty Strange. Well, the good news is that the new album — Come to California — is here but even better, it is a double disc delight!
There is more. Come to California, apart from being a first-rate set of quality roots rock is at the same time, an ambitious song cycle concept album. Ah yes, the dreaded “c” word. But fret not, there are no tales of deaf, dumb and blind messiahs, goblin kings or rock stars traumatised by their over-protective mothers.
The core of Come to California lies in the chorus of the album’s centrepiece, the laconic and easy stroll of “Best Suit” — “Cut flowers in the windowsill / New Day rising, fate is our fresh kill / I put on my best suit knowing it’s finally O.K.”
This promise of better things on the horizon, the allure of the good life somewhere in the land of dreams and opportunity, hope and ambition is a feeling every restless dreamer knows deep inside his/her heart.
This theme is further developed in “Go West” (“I’m building a bridge to get out of this place”), “Highway Lines” (“Passing Baltimore, Delaware and Philadelphia, it all looks the same to me”, “Sunset and Vine” (“Maybe this town will swallow me entirely / A city of angels who don’t care / Maybe I’ll make my peace and head on back east”), “Salvation” (“My salvation will come when tranquil waters carry me home”) and “Sunshine” (“I’m sick of chasing the ghost of what she used to be”) whether the movement is one along geographical, metaphorical or emotional lines.
In parallel to this is a heartfelt look at a relationship, worn and torn by distance, physical or otherwise. This is clearly heard in the simply explosive “Tired of Thinking of You”, the majestic jangly “Geraldine”, the folky “Feel The Way I Do” and the jazzy “Holding It All Together”.
At the very end, we are confronted with the hard cold truth of “Leave the Past Behind” (“As I greet the brand new morning, waving goodbye to the life I left behind”) — even though our dreams never quite materialise, there is always anticipation for tomorrow. As long as there still is a tomorrow.
To deliver 16 songs of such consistent strength, both musically and conceptually, is an achievement worthy of trumpeting from the highest ground. Those of us who still give a damn about pop music can be thankful that likeminded artists like Mannix have the guts and self-assurance to put their money where their mouth is.